By Jessica Carmona
One year ago, on my third wedding anniversary, I worked up the courage to tell my then-husband I no longer felt safe or happy in our marriage. In response, he broke our bedroom door off its hinges, fracturing his right arm.
Neither my parents nor my close friends know about the verbal, emotional, and financial abuse I experienced during the last eight years of my life. To this day, I have not reported any of the many incidents of abuse I endured and survived to any law enforcement agency.
This is because my immigration status intensified my vulnerability to the abuse. My husband had used my status as an excuse to mistreat me, and I felt I could not access the support I needed to adjust my immigration status and escape the violence. The police were not my savior; time and again, I saw how they put immigrants like me in the abusive hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Last week, the California State Senate narrowly failed to advance proposed legislation—the VISION Act, AB 937—that would have helped immigrant domestic violence survivors like me seek the support they need by banning law enforcement from colluding with ICE. This was a crucial opportunity to end the system of “double punishment” that exists for immigrants in California and to build safer communities. I feel deeply betrayed that my Senator, Susan Talamantes Eggman, opposed this urgent bill.
Here in our state, immigrants who earn their release from jail or prison often cannot return to their families and rebuild their lives. Instead, state and local officials frequently transfer them to ICE custody.
Legislators’ failure to pass the VISION Act is an especially devastating blow to immigrant survivors, who often find themselves in a double bind when deciding where to turn to help. Do we turn to the law enforcement authorities who say they are here to “protect and serve,” when in fact we see them collude with ICE to decimate our communities and separate our families? Or do we stay silent to the abuse and try to carry on?
According to a 2015 ACLU study, 88% of survivors report that police sometimes or often did not believe them or blamed them for the violence. The same study shows that over 80% of survivors “believed that police relations with marginalized communities influenced their… willingness to call the police.” Of those respondents, 44% reported that police are biased against immigrants “sometimes” or “often.”
White supremacy, ableism, homophobia, and classism intensify the harm of interpersonal relationship violence by punishing marginalized survivors who try and defend themselves. According to a statewide survey conducted by California Victims’ Views on Safety and Justice, only 14% of crime victims felt “very supported” by the criminal justice system after they experienced a crime, leaving behind a large swath of survivors who reported that they felt unsupported—especially if those survivors identified as transgender, non-binary, differently bodied, low-income, and Black, Indigenous, or a person of color.
As an immigrant, I see this bias at work in my community. I have witnessed law enforcement detain and deport immigrants like myself—community members who had every right to return to their lives and families in California. A person that comes to mind is Gabby Solano, a community member who survived domestic violence and was deported by ICE after serving 22 years in state prison. If not for the fact that she is an immigrant, like me, she would have just been released to her family in San Bernardino.
California’s Central Valley, where I reside, has a long history of law enforcement colluding with ICE agents, and an even deeper history of over-policing and criminalizing immigrants. Immigration systems have always been used as a form of oppression that generates fear. Sheriffs and law enforcement agencies facilitate the reincarceration (and re-traumatization) of undocumented and documented immigrant community members, whom ICE then forces to sit in prison-like detention centers as they await deportation.
The VISION Act presented a historic opportunity for California senators, including Senator Eggman, to stand up for the most marginalized and make it less dangerous for immigrant communities to interact with the police. Instead, they have left intact the tight links that exist between law enforcement and ICE in our so-called “sanctuary state.”
The safety and wellbeing of our communities depended on their vote. Their cowardice will land on the wrong side of history.
Jessica Carmona is a Central Valley community organizer and member of the ICE out of Stockton coalition.