When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents grabbed an undocumented woman in the Texas courtroom where she had just been granted a restraining order against an abusive boyfriend, it was a triumph of bullying over common sense. And because of what the agents did and where they did it, women who otherwise might have gone for help may well die at the hands of their abusers.
It doesn’t matter that the woman wasn’t a saint. It doesn’t matter that she was here without documentation. What matters is that government agents acted on a tip from her abuser, who knew exactly where she would be and when because she was required to notify him about the hearing for the restraining order. The government agents effectively enabled his final act of abuse against her: deportation. And they went inside a courtroom to do it.
Women stay with their abusers for a variety of reasons, including threats against the lives of their families, children, friends and pets. You can now add the very real threat that if a woman tries to leave, her abuser will call ICE and have her deported. Even hearing that this happened just once may convince some women that they cannot risk asking for legal protection from their tormentors.
The truth is many women flee their countries because of the violence and abuse they and their families suffered. ICE — and, by extension, the American people it represents — has become just one more abuser.
The current administration proudly trumpets it has “taken the handcuffs off” ICE agents. Given the demonization of undocumented immigrants during the presidential campaign, it’s not surprising that agents now feel they can do whatever they want, whenever they want and wherever they want. To hell with unintended consequences, like stopping people from cooperating with local law enforcement to solve and prevent the crimes that threaten every resident, native-born and immigrant alike.
That cooperation has always been the reason behind sanctuary cities. They are not sanctuaries for criminals. Undocumented immigrants do not get a free pass to commit crimes. The “sanctuary” is that local police don’t ask about immigration status when dealing with people, especially as victims or witnesses.
In Tucson, Ariz., for example, an undocumented immigrant fought with a man who had tried to steal a car with children inside, restraining the man long enough for the police to arrive and arrest the carjacker. The immigrant then worked with detectives to ensure the criminal was prosecuted for kidnapping, auto theft and burglary. If the man had been worried that police would ask about his immigration status and potentially deport him because of it, he might not have gotten involved, and who knows what could have happened to the kids in the car. That’s what sanctuary does.
The administration claims sanctuary cities are hotbeds of crime, perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. Of course, individual cases, like the 2015 killing of a young woman on The Embarcadero, are heartbreakingly tragic for the victims’ families and friends.
A study of FBI crime statistics released in January showed sanctuary counties actually have significantly lower rates of crime, including murder, than comparable non-sanctuary ones. In large metropolitan areas, the overall crime rate in sanctuary counties was 15 percent lower. Much of that is attributed to the trust and cooperation between law enforcement and the immigrant communities that sanctuary policies nurture.
Yet the present administration wants to cut federal funding for sanctuary cities if they don’t allow local police to help round up undocumented immigrants. Not only will this destroy that trust and cooperation that reduces crime, it means fewer local cops will be available to stop, investigate and solve the crimes that do occur. That’s why law enforcement groups, like the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Major Cities Chiefs Association, oppose using local cops to enforce immigration laws.
If you like law and order, you should respect the goals — and positive outcomes — of sanctuary cities like San Francisco. And you should care that ICE agents went into a courtroom to grab a woman trying to protect herself from an abuser. We all should care about protecting women from domestic violence, whether they’re documented or not.
Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.