Immigration laws and domestic violence
The latest verbal warfare between Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario and the American Civil Liberties Union — marked with all the sublety of a WWF wrestling match promotion — makes for great news stories. But it also highlights a problem regarding the treatment of suspected illegal immigrants in this state and this country:
Should such people be deported — or face the threat of deportation — simply because they are the victims of domestic violence?
Colorado’s 6-year-old immigration law requires police who arrest someone on most charges to report that person to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they believe the person is in this country illegally.
But that law exempts people arrested in domestic violence cases from being reported until they are convicted. That’s because both victim and perpetrator are frequently arrested in domestic violence cases, since it’s often hard to determine initially who the victim is.
At least, that’s the ACLU’s interpretation of the law. Sheriff Vallario has a different view.
Vallario was criticized by the ACLU and the Colorado Immigration Rights Coalition this week for reporting domestic violence arrestees to ICE as soon as they are jailed, rather than waiting until there is a conviction.
Vallario maintains the law doesn’t prohibit him from reporting those arrests to ICE and said he would be violating other parts of Colorado law if he didn’t turn over that information to federal immigration authorities.
Legal experts say there’s enough wiggle room in the Colorado law to give some credence to both Vallario’s and the ACLU’s arguments.
But those arguments may now be moot, since a new federal program known as Secure Communities officially took effect in Colorado this week.
It requires that the fingerprints of any suspect jailed in any county in Colorado be forwarded to ICE through the FBI. Then ICE is to check for illegals convicted of violent crimes.
It’s a sensible program on its face, aimed at dealing quickly with those who are not only here illegally, but have also committed violent crimes.
But it makes no exemption for those who may be jailed even though they are victims of domestic violence, although ICE authorities say they don’t intend to deport such victims.
However, like Vallario’s interpretation of a state law, it leaves victimized immigrant women (and some men) with a horrible choice: Should they report beatings or worse they receive at the hands of a spouse or boyfriend and risk deportation, or should they suffer in silence?
ICE should find a way to exempt domestic violence cases from the fingerprint reporting so that domestic violence victims aren’t faced with making such a desperate calculation.