A WBF Publication
By: Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff
April 13, 2017
To the editor:
In February, an undocumented woman was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when she entered a Texas courthouse seeking a restraining order against a man who was abusing her. Her abuser had notified ICE that she would be at the courthouse that day.
ICE’s actions in Texas have set off a crisis for undocumented survivors of domestic violence nationwide, with many now afraid to utilize the judicial process or seek the help of law enforcement in order to gain protection from their abuser.
Historically, ICE has rarely entered the Probate & Family Court in Massachusetts to detain individuals who are in court to deal with domestic violence and family law matters. As a result, the court has been a safe place for survivors of domestic violence to seek help, regardless of their immigration status.
As ICE practices change, it is uncertain whether survivors of violence and their children will be put at risk for detention or deportation by seeking protection from abuse via the Massachusetts court system.
The Women’s Bar Foundation recruits, trains and mentors volunteer attorneys to represent survivors of domestic violence, regardless of their immigration status.
In recent weeks, our clients have been reaching out to us with heightened concerns. We have clients who are afraid to leave their abusers because their abusers have threatened to call ICE and report them.
In other cases, abusers have taken our clients’ immigration paperwork away from them, making it difficult for our clients to provide proof of their immigration status. Still other clients are afraid to enter court for a restraining order because they are afraid their abuser — often the father of their children — will be deported.
For many undocumented individuals, remaining in the United States is the most important priority. If immigration policies make it difficult for women and children to remain in the country and obtain protection against an abuser, many will opt to endure the abuse.
With immigration enforcement practices in flux, increased support for clients at the intersection of immigration and family law is growing more urgent daily. Right now, the WBF is responding to this crisis by prioritizing cases involving undocumented survivors of domestic violence.
On April 24, the WBF and Victim Rights Law Center will co-host “Advanced Legal Strategies for Immigrant Survivors Facing Detention and Removal” with trainers from the Irish International Immigrant Center, Greater Boston Legal Services and National Immigration Project.
The goal of the training is to help those working with survivors develop strategies to support undocumented clients in the face of new immigration policies.
We need help from the Massachusetts legal community. Please consider volunteering your time to represent a domestic violence survivor in need of assistance in the Probate & Family Court. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how you can make a difference.
Patricia E. Comfort
The writer is executive director of the Women’s Bar Foundation.