Immigrants filing for civil protective orders have a valid fear of exposing themselves and their families when seeking protection from abuse.
As we mentioned in a previous blog, domestic violence survivors who are undocumented immigrants experience additional fears when seeking help or when filing for a Civil Protection Order against their abusers. Immigrant survivors fear that seeking protection from abuse could lead to dire immigration consequences not only for themselves, but also for their abusers.
Even though the District is a sanctuary city, which means the District limits its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agents in order to protect immigrants from deportation, this designation is not foolproof. Because the District is not a state and is partially funded and controlled by the federal government, there are loopholes in its sanctuary city designation. The biggest issue in D.C.’s sanctuary’s status is the D.C. Superior Court.
D.C. Superior Court is funded by the federal government and staffed by the federal U.S. Marshals Service. Unlike D.C. Department of Corrections, which is prohibited from holding immigrants in custody for Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal U.S. Marshals Service may detain an individual leaving criminal custody. Appearing for a civil case, like a Civil Protection Order, will not typically result in someone getting picked up on an ICE detainer if they lack status, and immigrant members of the community can contact Sanctuary DMV to ask a community volunteer to accompany them to court in person. Nonetheless, when an immigrant domestic violence survivor comes to the courthouse seeking protection, they may also fear that doing so could risk having their immigration status exposed. There are some situations, notably release from criminal detention, that could result in an undocumented immigrant facing the very real fear of ICE detention and deportation.
Additionally, abusers are frequently spouses, partners, or parents of survivors’ children. While this intimate relationship is always a struggle for domestic violence survivors seeking help, for undocumented immigrant survivors, the potential for an undocumented abuser to come into contact with immigration officials after an arrest is an added fear that non-immigrant survivors typically do not face. Deportation of an abuser may increase the safety of some survivors, but it may also have a negative impact on immigrant survivors who may lose the financial or other support they received from a former partner.
We want the immigrant community to understand that:
(1) The issuance of a Civil Protection Order has no immigration consequences for either party, but the violation of an order by a non-citizen aggressor could be a reason for deportation; and
(2) A Civil Protection Order does not require criminal justice system intervention; the method of enforcement is under the survivor’s control.
We hope immigrant survivors will not be afraid to file for Civil Protection Orders against their abusers and know that Legal Aid attorneys are here to discuss their options. A Civil Protection Order may be finely crafted to address specific issues. Survivors can call (202) 628-1161 or complete an online application to seek help from one of our attorneys.
To file for a CPO right now, you can visit the Domestic Violence Intake Center at the DC Superior Court, or survivors can contact SAFE at 1-800-407-5048 to get help with filing for a Civil Protection Order. However, if it’s an emergency, a survivor should call 911 for assistance. DC Safe is a 24/7 crisis intervention agency for domestic violence in Washington, D.C. They work with survivors through emergency services, court advocacy, and system reform.
Legal Aid continues to stand with our growing immigrant population and are available to provide legal assistance to those who have concerns regarding how to balance their safety with any immigration concerns.