“I am afraid.”
“I am worried about my kids.”
“I feel like I am walking on eggshells.”
“What if, by trying to get help, I make things worse?”
As advocates for survivors of domestic violence, we hear words like these often. Survivors live with pervasive fear at home. But now, many of these survivors are afraid of something else: the world outside their homes.
In our communities, we daily encounter immigrant families as neighbors, friends, coworkers — and as survivors. And yet they are terrified to move freely, defend themselves or report crimes.
To address this issue, State Senator Jamie Eldridge and State Representative Juana Matías have introduced a bill called the Safe Communities Act. Nearly half the Massachusetts Legislature has co-sponsored the bill, and more than 100 organizations have endorsed it so far. According to its Facebook page, “The federal government wants state and local law enforcement to serve as ‘force multipliers’ for its crackdown on immigrants. The Safe Communities Act would stop that from happening in our state. The Safe Communities Act protects the civil rights, safety and well-being of all residents by drawing a clear line between immigration enforcement and public safety.”
REACH supports the Safe Communities Act because it will ensure everyone in our Commonwealth can freely seek protection from our police and our courts without fear of their families being torn apart by deportation. The proposed law would limit police involvement in immigration enforcement. Police and other public safety officials play a crucial role in helping us protect survivors of domestic violence and their children. In the past, we have successfully encouraged immigrant survivors to overcome their fears and report their abusers to police. We explained that seeking help would not put them at risk of losing their children through deportation. In the current climate, we can no longer say this with certainty.
Worse, our immigrant clients now tell us that they are terrified that contact with any government agency risks separating them from their children or other loved ones. This creates additional barriers to safety planning with immigrant survivors and leaves them and their children in grave danger.
This situation serves no one. It empowers abusers, who use the threat of deportation to silence survivors. It impairs the ability of police to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities — families experiencing domestic violence.
Passage of the Safe Communities Act would make our communities safer for everyone by restoring faith in our police and other government agencies. A truly safe community is one where abusers are held accountable for domestic violence, not their victims.
What can you do?
Let your state legislators hear from you! Let them know you support the Safe Communities Act. If you’re not sure how to contact your representatives, click here.
Our friends at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) are mobilizing citizens around this issue. You can keep up with them on their website for the latest updates.
REACH is hearing from more and more immigrant survivors every day – they need our support with everything from safety planning to court accompaniment, to housing, and more. You can help our efforts by going to https://reachma.org/donate/donate-now/, selecting “General Donations” from the first drop-down, and under “I want my gift to go towards” select “Community Advocacy.”
An abridged version of this post appeared earlier this week in the Boston Globe West.