Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Immigration Enforcement, Sanctuary Policies and Domestic Violence



Time to read

3 Minutes

Guest post by Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes and Esther Arenas-Arroyo. Catalina is Professor at University California, Merced and Esther is Assistant Professor at Vienna University of Economics and Business.

The intensification of immigration enforcement in the US since 2002 has led to an impressive growth in deportations due, primarily, to the collaboration between Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) and local or state law enforcement agencies. Police testimonies, anecdotal reports, and empirical research suggest local police involvement in immigration enforcement increases fear and mistrust among immigrant communities, reducing their willingness to engage with the police (Nguyen 2015). As a response to this situation, some states, cities and counties have limited the cooperation of their police with immigration authorities through what has been labeled as sanctuary policies (Martínez  and Martínez-Schuldt 2021).  Our forthcoming article provides the first empirical evidence on how domestic violence reporting by immigrants responds to both sets of immigration policies.

Domestic violence is a serious under-reported crime in the United States (Huecker 2020), with 20 people being physically abused by an intimate partner every minute. The rates of domestic violence are higher for Hispanic women (37.1 percent), especially among immigrant women, than for non-Hispanic white women (34.6 percent). The obstacles faced by foreign-born women attempting to leave abusive relationships are exacerbated by their immigration status. Immigrant women are more likely to experience social isolation. In addition to cultural differences, their supportive network of families and friends is often back in their home countries (Kasturirangan et al 2004). They are also more likely than native-born women to be economically dependent on their husbands, as they often lack work eligibility.  For example, they are likely to hold a dependent visa (e.g. H4) which did not qualify for employment authorization until 2015. Finally, immigrant women are more likely to depend on their husbands for immigration status adjustments. Remaining married is essential for foreign spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who wish to adjust their temporary status and apply for lawful permanent residence under the family-based category.  According to Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) provisions, foreign spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR) can be sponsored by their spouses if they are living together. This requirement tends to discourage immigrant spouses from leaving abusive marriages and, instead, appears to reinforce the prevalence of domestic violence. This situation may be exacerbated when immigrant women have U.S.-born children because they may fear of losing custody of the children in a legal battle. Against this context, the U.S. Congress introduced special provisions in its 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) according to which immigrant women subject to domestic violence are able to petition for the self-adjustment of their immigration statuses and those of their children.  

Recent changes in immigration policy, as captured by the intensification of interior immigration enforcement and the adoption of sanctuary policies, might have affected VAWA self-petitions. Research has documented that people are more likely to report a crime when they trust the police (Kwak et al 2019). By either enhancing or limiting the cooperation of the local police with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), interior immigration enforcement policies (e.g. 287 (g) or Secure Communities program) and sanctuary policies may alter immigrant women’s trust in the police and, thereby, hinder or facilitate their reporting of domestic violence. To gauge if that is the case, we gather state-level VAWA self-petition data together with data on immigration enforcement and sanctuary policies. We found that interior immigration enforcement reduces the VAWA self-petition rate by roughly 10 percent, whereas sanctuary policies boost that rate by 2 percent. Additionally, we found that the effects attributed to immigration policies are not driven by changes in domestic violence but, rather, by its modified reporting. Our results suggest that sanctuary policies might make migrants more comfortable to come forward and report a case to the police and leave their abusers.

Understanding how the reporting of domestic violence by immigrants is affected by the new policy context is crucial for various reasons. First, it may help us address the high economic and social cost of domestic violence worldwide. In the United States, the direct costs of domestic violence against women alone exceeded an estimated $3.6 trillion in 2017 (2014 U.S. dollars) (Florence 2018). This figure represents a lower bound since costs to employers, insurance companies, and reduced tax revenue due to lost work productivity are not included. Furthermore, it is not a problem that exclusively affects women. It also harms children, most of whom are U.S. citizens. Learning how immigration policy affects the reporting of domestic violence could help reduce and prevent costs.  Second, a growing share of the U.S. population is likely to be impacted by the changing immigration policy context. Approximately 21 million female immigrants reside in the United States, accounting for over 13 percent of the nation’s female population. In addition, the share of married couples with at least one non-citizen partner has been rising (from 7 percent in 2001 to almost 11 percent in 2016) over the past years. Therefore, gaining a better understanding of how immigrant victims respond to domestic violence in the new immigration policy environment is vital in the design of criminal justice responses. 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Amuedo-Dorantes, C. and Arenas-Arroyo, E. (2021). Immigration Enforcement, Sanctuary Policies and Domestic Violence. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/07/immigration [date]

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