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Do You Support the Movement to End Domestic Violence? You Should Also Care About Immigration Policy.

Blog post Jessica Merrill

The most important thing I’ve learned since joining the movement to end domestic violence is that one size does not fit all when supporting survivors. Every survivor has a unique identity that is shaped by country of origin, language, gender identity, sexuality, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and so much more. We cannot separate out these components of a person’s identity when thinking about how we respond to an individual survivor’s situation and needs, or when thinking about what policy issues impact their lives. At her “Remembering the 60s” address at Yale University, Audre Lorde summed up this notion perfectly: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

This summer, many have been debating immigration policy, particularly in the aftermath of the tragic murder of Kathryn Steinle, a young woman killed in San Francisco, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant with a criminal history. Shock and sadness rippled from San Francisco to all of California’s communities and across the nation. For some, grief over her death has turned to placing the blame on the existence of “sanctuary city” policies. Some elected officials are proposing changes to diminish the “sanctuary city” policies for cities such as San Francisco. But one terrible act shouldn’t be the basis for sweeping policy changes that we recognize will have unintended consequences for communities.

Immigrant survivors of domestic violence are directly impacted by immigration laws, and that’s why at the Partnership we work to educate our policymakers about the specific needs of immigrant survivors and have joined efforts to pass such laws as the TRUST Act in California, which is designed to rebuild trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement. The TRUST Act addresses one of the most important risk factors that makes survivors feel endangered and afraid to reach out for help: the fear that calling the police will result in their deportation.

Responding to a recent crime in her own community, Ann McCarty, Associate Director of the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center in Lompoc, makes the argument that we should not conflate immigration status with violence against women:

“To focus on the fact that one of the perpetrators is in this country illegally is shifting the attention away from where it really should be. Would there be this same level of outrage if it had been a man of any other race breaking into this woman’s home? The answer is, no, there wouldn’t and we know this because there hasn’t been with all the other assaults we’ve dealt with over the years.

Immigration has nothing to do with this crime. Nor does immigration have anything to do with the hundreds of other survivors we have worked with in North County who have been raped and abused by someone they know.”

When we work from a survivor-centered perspective, we see that the complexity of survivors’ lives calls us to raise our voices and join intersecting policy advocacy efforts. One measure of our movement’s effectiveness is the extent to which we can elevate the needs of the most disenfranchised survivors.  A true commitment to ending all forms of violence, including domestic violence, will reflect policies that don’t keep Californians—including immigrant survivors—in fear of seeking safety. I truly believe that the more opportunities we have for all Californians to look out for and support one another, the better chance we’ll have at a healthier, more peaceful state. At the Partnership, we’ve been working with advocates and allies towards this vision—it’s also going to take broad public support of policies like the TRUST Act to achieve it. 

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