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Latinos Decry 'Secure Communities' In D.C.

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Latino advocates raise awareness outside the Wilson Building Oct. 10.
Patrick Madden
Latino advocates raise awareness outside the Wilson Building Oct. 10.

Advocates for the Latino community say D.C.’s participation in a federal deportation program could discourage victims of domestic abuse from contacting police. The program known as “Secure Communities” requires local police departments to share arrest information, including fingerprint data, with federal immigration authorities. The goal is to detect and deport criminals in the U.S. illegally.

Critics of the program say it discourages undocumented immigrants from stepping forward and reporting crimes to police, in particular, incidents involving domestic violence. 

Hermil Silva has one such story. Through a translator, she told reporters about it on the steps of D.C. city hall Monday. For years, her husband beat her, she said. 

"In my case, I was so afraid of calling the police, but finally a neighbor did it for me," she said. "I didn’t because I was so afraid of the police turning me over to immigration."

Silva’s case highlights a problem in domestic abuse incidents involving undocumented immigrants, according to Mark Haufrect, an attorney with Mil Mujeres, a nonprofit that helps Latino domestic violence victims. It’s not uncommon in domestic violence situations for both the alleged abuser and the victim to be arrested and fingerprinted while police determined exactly what happened.  

“What is common is that both the victim and the abuser are arrested when they can’t determine who was the ... primary aggressor, who was acting in self-defense," says Haufrect. As a result, he fears victims' fingerprints will be sent to immigration authorities, prompting possible deportations. 

Because of that, many immigrants are reluctant to contact police. A survey of Latina immigrants in the D.C. area found more than 80 percent of battered women didn’t report the abuse to authorities. 

So far, D.C. has refused to participate in Secure Communities, although federal authorities say the program will soon be mandatory for all jurisdictions.

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