Sign reads "No Human being is illegal"

ICE Detains Undocumented Woman Who Reported Domestic Abuse

Last week, federal immigration agents arrested and detained a survivor of domestic violence, in the El Paso courthouse where she sought help. Local authorities suspect the tip came from her abuser.

Ms. Gonzales*, a transgender woman, reported at least three instances of domestic violence in the last year, saying that she had been punched, kicked, and chased with a knife. She left her abuser and sought an order of protection in family court—which is where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) picked her up. That’s right: ICE detained a woman while she was seeking an order of protection from an abuser who chased her with a knife, apparently on a tip from that same abuser.

This is stunningly cruel, not least because it will deter undocumented survivors from reporting violence, seeking help, and leaving abusers. Domestic violence is already severely underreported. For undocumented survivors, who may be arrested, detained, and separated from their families for coming forward, the threat of deportation is an even greater deterrent to reporting. This fact is so obvious that even the Department of Homeland Security’s own task force recognized it. Abusers know it too, and they use the threat of deportation as a weapon. That means that, not only do undocumented survivors fear reporting to the police because of their immigration status, they may fear seeking a protective order or any kind of support—such as staying at an emergency shelter like the one Gonzales was staying at before she was detained in court.

As Barbara pointed out, deportations aren’t new—but within just a few weeks of taking office, Trump has already taken steps to make injustices like these more common. Trump (falsely) claims he’s protecting people from “dangerous criminal aliens”—a disturbing use of language to dehumanize immigrants. Arrests like Gonzales’ demonstrate just how gross of a lie that is. Detaining survivors while they are at court to get an order of protection doesn’t make anyone safe; instead, it traps survivors and their children in violent relationships. Gonzales’ arrest comes the same week that hundreds of undocumented people have been detained, including parents who’ll be separated from their young children and people leaving a church’s hypothermia shelter (you know, the ones churches provide so homeless people don’t die in the cold).

I’m a feminist who’s committed to supporting survivors and ending domestic violence, so I’ll be donating to the National Immigration Law Center in her name. If you want to re-commit to (or join!) the struggle for immigrant rights, check out the MiJente Rapid Responder network, join United We Dream, and organize at home to tell your representatives that this cruelty will not stand.

*Editor’s note: This piece was originally posted on our Community site. And news accounts have provided multiple names for the survivor who was detained at an El Paso courthouse. Aware that she is a transgender woman, the author has opted not to use her first name in this piece, in the absence of information indicating her chosen name.


Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, where she writes about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice. Sejal is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national campaign to end gender-based violence in schools, where she has led several state and federal campaigns for student survivors' civil rights. In the past, Sejal led LGBT rights campaigns for the Center for American Progress. Today, she is a student at Harvard Law School and a frequent speaker on LGBTQ rights and civil rights in schools.

Sejal Singh is a law student and columnist at Feministing, writing about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice.

Read more about Sejal

Join the Conversation