SAN FRANCISCO – For undocumented immigrants, reporting domestic violence can be a daunting task. Many fear that they could end up being detained and possibly even deported through the federal Secure Communities program, which requires police to share the fingerprints of anyone they arrest with immigration officials. As a result, many victims of abuse are afraid to call the police. But new legislation now being considered by San Francisco supervisors could change that.
Supporters of the Due Process for All Ordinance say that if passed, it would go a long way in helping to rebuild trust between victims and local law enforcement.
“I was scared of calling the police … [I] didn’t know if the police would act to defend us or to persecute us,” said Lourdes Perez, a survivor of domestic violence and member of Mujeres Unidas y Activas, an advocacy group for women immigrants. “We didn’t want to separate our family.”
Perez was one of more than 100 people, including city council members and activists, who rallied on the steps of City Hall Tuesday to call for passage of the ordinance. If enacted, it would allow local law enforcement to ignore “detainers” issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. The detainers call on police to hold individuals for a period of up to 48 hours while their immigration status is verified.
While these ICE detainers are officially requests, police in many jurisdictions around the country have felt compelled to abide by them.
The due process ordinance was introduced by Supervisor John Avalos on Tuesday and is being co-sponsored by seven other supervisors. Even if passed, information on fingerprints would still be shared with ICE through Secure Communities, though law enforcement would no longer have to comply with the detainers except in cases involving convictions for serious or violent felonies.
Avalos, who notes that in recent years upwards of 100 individuals per month have been handed over to ICE, calls his legislation the “strongest” in the country. Similar laws have already been passed in cities including Berkeley, Washington, D.C., as well as Santa Clara County, Calif. and Cook County, Ill.
California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D–San Francisco) has also sought to pass similar legislation on a statewide level. A third version of the TRUST Act is now making its way through the legislature. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed an earlier version of the bill last fall.
Anti-domestic violence advocates say S-Comm discourages victims of domestic violence from reporting abuse. It is common in cases of domestic violence for both the perpetrator and victim of domestic violence to be taken into police custody for a variety of reasons, including wrongful reporting by the perpetrator and police confusion.
Especially in the case of immigrants with low English proficiency, the police may decide to detain and even arrest all involved in order to clarify statements and determine who is at fault. Once individuals are arrested, they are subject to detention and review of immigration status as a result of S-Comm.
“S-Comm tears trust apart,” said Beverly Upton of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium. “We want it to be safer to call the police, not less safe.”
S-Comm was enacted in 2011 to facilitate the deportation of undocumented immigrants arrested by local law enforcement. It requires that local jurisdictions share the fingerprints of those detained with federal immigration officials, who then issue a detainer.
According to Dist. 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who was at Tuesday’s rally, the impact of S-Comm goes beyond cases of domestic violence. The program, she says, has widened the barriers that many immigrants already face in seeking and accessing help from local law enforcement.
Kim described S-Comm as a “giant step backwards because it singles out members of our immigrant communities and those who are perceived to be immigrants for different treatment when it comes to the criminal justice system.”
Participants at Tuesday’s rally were hopeful that the ordinance would pass, and say it could provide a model for similar laws nationwide.
“We’re really excited to say that we feel it’s going to pass,” said Cinthya Muñoz, who works with the social advocacy group Causa Justa. “It really shows how important the issue is and how many are supporting it.”
Supervisors are set to vote on the ordinance in August.
Muñoz is on the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, which worked closely with Avalos in drafting the ordinance. She added that while it represents a step forward, there is more work to be done in protecting the city’s immigrant community. “Domestic workers are still being violated every day, there’s still a lot of wage theft in our communities, immigrants are continuing to be exploited, and immigration [reform] is not looking promising,” she said.
At the rally, Avalos smiled as he joined supporters in a cheer. Shrugging off concerns of a federal backlash, he told the crowd, “When you have so many people in the city who are immigrants, you have a responsibility to protect people.”
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