Secure Communities program doesn't make domestic violence victims secure

Secure Communities program doesn’t make domestic violence victims secure

By Sunita Patel and Sameera Hafiz • October 29, 2010

When you make police into immigration agents, it destroys trust in immigrant communities and makes everyone less safe.

The controversial Secure Communities program, which seeks to require all local police departments to share fingerprints with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, makes the lives of some domestic violence victims, in particular, anything but secure.

If victims of domestic abuse who are here without legal status believe they’ll be tossed in immigration prisons if they call the police, then they won’t make that call. And the abusers will be able to continue to victimize them with impunity.

Here’s one case. Born in China, Helen (she didn’t want her real name used) entered the United States four years ago. She is married to a U.S. citizen who abuses her. Instead of filing the paperwork required for her to obtain legal permanent residency, her husband used Helen’s lack of immigration status as a tool to further control her.

In July, the police took in both Helen and her husband under a dual arrest policy for incidents of domestic violence. When Helen was arrested, she was fingerprinted as part of the booking process. She has no criminal history, and her only encounters with the police are connected to being a victim of domestic violence.

The district attorney’s office decided not to prosecute her, her fingerprints were run against ICE databases, and she was transferred to an immigration facility rather than released. She is still fighting to stay in the country under laws that protect immigrant crime victims and survivors of domestic violence.

Immigration enforcement programs such as Secure Communities increase fear of reporting among immigrant victims of domestic violence, even in life-threatening situations.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, along with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and Cardozo Immigrant Justice Clinic, has filed a civil lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to find out, among many other things, how many women and victims of domestic violence end up in immigration removal proceedings because of Secure Communities.
This is a nationwide problem, and people are organizing across the country to address it.

Several cities and counties have decided to protect victims of crime by opting out. Unfortunately, these jurisdictions are in limbo despite passing local legislation to prevent information sharing between law enforcement and immigration authorities on the federal level. The cities of San Francisco, Arlington, Va., and Santa Clara, Calif., are set to meet with immigration authorities in November with the goal of removing themselves from the list of places where Secure Communities is implemented.

We hope the federal authorities will honor their requests — and all future requests to opt-out of the program — to help the local police keep victims of domestic violence safe from further abuse.

Sunita Patel is a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (, and Sameera Hafiz is senior staff attorney from Legal Momentum ( They can be reached via the Progressive Media Project ( 409 East Main Street, Madison, WI 53703.

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