Many women crossing the border into the United States today are fleeing unimaginable trauma in their home countries, but they’re finding no relief once they make it here. Seeking refuge, they’re instead plunged into the black hole of Trump’s terrifying bureaucracy.
The advocacy group Tahirih’s report on the state of migrant women in this country reveals the struggles of people who are both continually forgotten and constantly targeted. Forgotten because immigrant women live with exploitation and abuse every day, although their frequently unpaid labor forms the backbone of a shadow economy. They’re targeted by the constant threat of deportation, for anything from a traffic violation to having their rape story disbelieved by a skeptical immigration officer.
“When someone arrives at our borders and legally asks for asylum…and that request is met with detention in a prison setting, [that] in and of itself is very traumatizing,” says Katharina Obser of Women’s Refugee Commission. But that trauma continues when women are subjected to abuse and violent attacks while incarcerated. Research and service providers’ reports have repeatedly documented “pervasive” abuse in immigration detention, despite detention’s being technically considered to be not a punitive but a civil legal measure.
Many migrant women who make it to the United States are still dealing with the aftermath of past violations that go unacknowledged in court, including sexual assault and gang attacks. And the nightmare continues when they end up both detained and separated from loved ones. Often, Obser adds, “asylum-seeking parents and others who have traveled with their family members are traumatized because they’ve been separated from their families…and don’t know where their children are, or don’t know where their spouses are,” and the prolonged separation “can also impact their ability to make their case, if their cases are linked to one another.”
Simply appearing before an immigration judge could prove risky, as the outcome is often heavily dependent on which court reviews the case. Deportation orders are granted at rates ranging from near zero to near 100 percent, depending on the judge or jurisdiction. Access to counsel is also critical: for asylum seekers in custody, chances for a successful judgment swings from 11 to 44 percent with a lawyer. Nationwide, however, just one in seven detainees can secure legal counsel.