Consider victims if policy changes

The tragic shooting of Kathryn Steinle has shaken San Francisco. In this painful time, we extend our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.

As advocates for domestic violence survivors, we abhor violence in all of its forms.

We call upon our leaders – from Capitol Hill to City Hall – to join the community in thoughtful, honest dialogue. Together, we can find real solutions that keep all communities safe.

And together, we can make sure that extreme anti-immigrant voices do not steer us into a trap that undermines community-based policing policies.

From providing support to domestic violence survivors, we have seen firsthand how local police acting as immigration agents blocks many immigrant survivors from seeking help when they most needed it.

In fact, calling 911 for help doesn’t always result in the victim getting the help they needed

Sometimes, those committing the abuse deliberately call the police on the victim if they know the victim does not have immigration status. Sometimes, police arrest both parties, especially when it comes to same-sex or transgender couples.

And immigrant crime victims – especially victims of domestic violence – could end up trapped in jail for extra time on an ICE hold, turned over to ICE agents, and facing deportation.

Norma, a San Francisco mother who had long wished to call for help, found herself instead caught up in deportation proceedings due to an ICE hold when she finally made that fateful call to 911 to report domestic violence.

So did Sonia Caiuch, who called 911 after a relative hurt her. ICE agents took Sonia after a three-day hold in the San Francisco jail. Her youngest child was just six months old at the time.

The community stopped Sonia and Norma’s deportations after much effort, but many others were lost.

That is why we supported the city’s Due Process for All Ordinance. It’s called a “Due Process” ordinance for a good reason – a few months after it passed, a federal court declared immigration “hold” requests entirely unconstitutional.

For domestic violence survivors, this clean break from an unjust system of deportation is good news.

The fact is, survivors of domestic violence may themselves have criminal convictions. Again, police may arrest both the person who commits the abuse and the person who has suffered it. And often, our criminal justice system does not work as it should. Wrongful convictions can and do occur. And people can and do make mistakes, move on, and reform their lives.

Amid the talk about cracking down on people with felonies, we must look beyond the labels, and consider the complete circumstances of every human being.  Their aspirations, their families, and their ties to the community.

Survivors of domestic violence are the opposite of a threat – they are parents, workers, residents, community members, and activists. They are committed to finding solutions to violence.

We were saddened to learn last week that our senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, may be considering legislation that would force local law enforcement back into the role of ICE agents. We must carefully look at all of the facts and facets of this tragedy, rather than rushing to judgment. We implore them to reconsider.

We believe this tragedy raises profound questions about many social issues, including addiction, mental health, and the ubiquity of guns. These are issues that affect us all. We urge our leaders to proceed thoughtfully, not to take rash action that will undermine civil rights and public safety.

Maria Carolina Morales is the director of Special Projects at Community United Against Violence (CUAV), the oldest LGBT anti-violence agency in the country. Morales is a queer immigrant and she has served at CUAV for almost a decade providing support for queer and trans survivors of abuse to heal from trauma, challenge criminalization, and practice community accountability.

Orchid Pusey is the associate director at Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS). Pusey joined AWS in 2002 and she has been part of the movement to end gender-based violence for fifteen years, working as a trainer, coordinator, organizer, collaborator and advocate, and she was one of the founders of Transforming Silence Into Action Project—a national network of API LGBTQ advocates and activists addressing intimate partner violence. She has a master’s degree in linguistics and speaks Mandarin, Russian, and English.