The woman I’ll call Maria entered the United States illegally from Guatemala five years ago and found a job making sandwiches at a Philadelphia deli.
She was an undocumented immigrant trying to make a life in an unfamiliar place. Then a man whom she’d dated a decade ago in her native country began coming around, promising that things would be different between them: He wouldn’t snoop through her cellphone, or inspect her genitalia for evidence of sexual activity, or try to control how she dressed.
Maria, who is in her early 20s, fell for it, and they became a couple again. After they had a baby, she suffered from severe postpartum depression, and he began physically abusing her. The first time he slapped her, she went to stay with a family member for a few days. He apologized and said he wanted them to be together for the baby’s sake, so she went back. The next time he hit her, she was too embarrassed to return to the relative, so she stayed even as the violence escalated.
A few weeks ago, he assaulted her again, pulled her clothes off, and tried to rape her. A neighbor heard her screams and called the police, who arrested him. Maria gave authorities a statement that evening. Her ex was released on bail, but was picked up the following day at his job by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Now she’s terrified that she may be next, and that if she’s deported, he will track her down in Guatemala.
It’s a terrible situation — but not as dire as it could be if she lived elsewhere.
That’s because of Philly’s status as a sanctuary city.
On Wednesday, District Attorney Larry Krasner reiterated the city’s policy of not turning in undocumented domestic-violence victims, and reminded those in Maria’s position that Philadelphia doesn‘t do that and that undocumented immigrants who step out of the shadows to testify against their abusers will not be turned over to ICE. That position defies a ruling this month by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has said that domestic violence no longer would be grounds for asylum as it had been under President Barack Obama.
“We have an attorney general and a president who want women to know that if they are victims of domestic violence, [they] will not protect them,” Krasner said at a news conference Wednesday. “What kind of tyrant does that?”
What kind of tyrant indeed?
Sessions’ ruling ignores the fact that domestic violence is a leading cause of death among women worldwide. Roughly one in three women is abused by her intimate partner, according to the World Health Organization. Nearly 40 percent die at the hands of their lovers.
I applaud Krasner for sticking up his middle finger to the Trump administration on this issue. Say what you want about our new district attorney, but he’s about the ideals that America used to stand for. America is supposed to be a country that welcomes immigrants — not one that throws the undocumented out if they dare to speak up after being victimized.
Given all of the bad news in recent weeks that had immigration officials ripping apart immigrant families at the U.S. border; the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding the travel ban against certain Muslim countries; and the announced retirement of U.S. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, it was refreshing to hear some good news for a change.
It has to be a huge relief for someone like Maria, who sought help just this week. At the advice of a friend, she reached out Tuesday to Stephanie Costa, an attorney for HIAS Pennsylvania, which provides services to immigrants and asylum seekers, and finally shared her story of abuse. Costa told me Maria’s story.
“I assured her in our conversation that Philadelphia is a sanctuary city and that the police and the DA will not report her to immigration,” Costa told me Wednesday. “I was like, ‘Nobody’s picking you up. You’re going to be fine.’ ”
That made Maria cry, Costa said, but they were tears of joy.