By Candace Gibson, Legal Intern
Like most reproductive justice organizations that advocate for policies that will improve women’s lives, we frequently have to combat dangerous rhetoric that attacks and humiliates the women we work for. Take for example, the recent billboards in Georgia and Los Angeles assailing Latinas and Black women for choosing to have an abortion. Now, we have State Representative Fattman from Massachusetts dehumanizing undocumented women while blurring the lines of immigration with criminal law:
Mr. Fattman dismissed concerns of some law enforcement officials — cited by the governor — who said using local police to enforce immigration laws could discourage reporting of crime by victims who are illegal immigrants.
Asked if he would be concerned that a woman without legal immigration status was raped and beaten as she walked down the street might be afraid to report the crime to police, Mr. Fattman said he was not worried about those implications.
“My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward,” Mr. Fattman said. “If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things,” he said referring to obtaining legal immigration status.
These words are not only disgusting but they disregard the reality that many immigrant women are at a higher risk of sexual and domestic violence because abusive partners and employers will threaten them with deportation if they don’t do what they want. Guess what Rep. Fattman says next when Mother Jones called to clarify what he had stated:
According to Fattman, the Telegram quote ignores some key context: “If someone got into a car accident, it’s obviously a tragic event. But if they’re drunk and they crash, it’s a crime,” he explained. “If that person was drunk and survived the accident they would be afraid to come forward. I think if someone is here illegally they should be afraid to come forward because they should be afraid to be deported.”
Yes, drunk driving is a crime. Yes, rape is a crime. Being here “illegally” is not a crime. This analogy does not work. Any violation of immigration law is a civil offense which requires an administrative hearing with its own separate rules and procedures, a process entirely different from the criminal justice system.
Rep. Fattman additionally believes that the principle of innocence until proven guilty does not apply to undocumented immigrants. Under his logic, this principle should also apply to undocumented immigrants because any immigration offense would be a crime. And if we are going to pursue an immigration system that is becoming increasingly like the criminal justice system, we need lengthy debates and public input of what constitutes an “immigration crime.” Currently, politicians are claiming that every immigration offense is a “crime” without really thinking of why it should be punished and how the punishment advances society’s interests. Furthermore, by saying that immigrant women should be afraid to report to the police is to encourage lawlessness, a sentiment that policy makers should not advocate.
As I wrote last week, lack of compliance with immigration laws is not a criminal violation but a civil offense. Politicians blur these separate legal systems at the peril of misinforming the public and further polarizing the immigration debate to the point where we cannot work across party lines to create workable solutions that will keep families together and allow individuals to pursue a legal pathway to obtain residency and eventually, citizenship. This type of language will only further marginalize our immigrant communities and give justification to those who want to exploit and harm them.
By Candace Gibson, Legal Intern