Fewer Immigrants Are Reporting Domestic Abuse. Police Blame Fear of Deportation

HOUSTON — For years, she slept with a gun under her pillow, living in fear of a boyfriend who beat her, controlled her life and threatened to kill her and her children. Domenica, who came to this country illegally from Mexico in 1995 and became part of the booming immigrant community in Houston, said her partner was a United States citizen, and often reminded her that she could be deported if she went to the police.

“He told me nobody would help me, because I don’t have papers,” said Domenica, 38, who has a son and daughter with her boyfriend, and asked that her last name not be used in order to protect them. “I was with him like that for a pretty long time. I felt like there was no help for me.”

In August of last year, fearing for the safety of her children, Domenica decided to flee. She never called the police. She said she would rather go into hiding than appear in court and risk being separated from her children, or sent home to Mexico.

“That scene is happening all the time,” Houston’s police chief, Art Acevedo, said in an interview. Though Houston’s immigrant population is one of the fastest-growing in the country, the city last year saw a 16 percent drop in domestic violence reports from the Hispanic community — a decline that the police blame on a tough new immigration enforcement law in Texas and the increasingly hostile political climate across the country surrounding the issue of illegal immigration.

The Houston police recorded 6,273 domestic violence reports from Hispanics in 2017, compared with 7,460 the year before.

Police departments in several cities with large Hispanic populations, including Los Angeles, Denver and San Diego, also experienced a decline in reports of domestic violence and sexual assault in their Hispanic communities. In Houston, Latino domestic violence reports went down even as the city’s Hispanic community, now 44 percent of the population, grew significantly.

By Cora Engelbrecht for THE NEW YORK TIMES
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