Nassau County’s top prosecutor is sounding the alarm on immigrants who are afraid to report crimes and she thinks it’s connected to the crackdown on illegal immigration.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas says the Office of Immigrant Affairs hotline has only received two calls since January of this year. Last year, the hotline received 51 calls total.
"We are hearing people are afraid to walk into a courthouse because they don't know what will await them,” Singas said. “And our message is clear, we are looking to protect witnesses and victims of crimes. We will not report you.”
But despite assurances from Singas and other law enforcement officials, Anthony Zenkus, of the Safe Center says the fear is palpable.
“Clients have told us they have not come to appointments,” Zenkus said. “Because they are afraid of leaving their homes because they are afraid of being picked up by immigration."
At the same time, he says, advocates who help rape victims at hospitals have seen an alarming trend.
“A few of the advocates said that they hadn't seen women of Latina background coming in in the past few months,” Zenkus said. “We've had actual victims of rape and sexual assault who have feared coming forward to get their exams but also who are consumed with the fear of being deported."
Around the country, there are similar concerns. Houston’s police chief said reports of rape by Latinos have dropped 40 percent. And the LAPD says they’ve seen a 25 percent decline along with a 10 percent drop in domestic violence reports. The NYPD told the I-Team they have not seen any noticeable declines.
The managing director of the center for legal services at My Sister’s Place, a non-profit in White Plains that helps victims of domestic violence, says the recent federal crackdown on illegal immigration is causing a wave of panic.
“All of our clients are in abusive situations,” Jennifer Friedman said. “So they already have that fear and then to layer on top of that, the fear that they could be facing detention, that’s paralyzing."
Many believe those fears were also compounded by an incident in February at a court in Texas. Surveillance video that was widely publicized showed a woman being arrested by immigration officers as she was seeking an order of protection in a domestic violence case.
Fearful the same thing could happen in New York, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas has introduced a bill that would punish anyone who reports the immigration status of a crime victim or someone seeking an order of protection.
"Certainly criminals find the most vulnerable in society and prey on them and we have to make sure immigration status isn't a tool they can use to prevent people from reporting crimes," Simotas said.
In a statement to the I-Team, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it works with local authorities to help crime victims when possible, even helping get visas for victims of domestic violence.