Texas, Trump, and violence against immigrant women and girls

Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Among the many abuses the president’s immigration policies represent, the recent actions of his administration have amounted to an American endorsement of gender-based violence against immigrant women and girls. 

Because these harms are largely playing out in our state, Texans are in a unique position to stop them, both through the ballot box and by pressuring elected officials. Even a quick examination of recent events demonstrates just how pressing our responsibility to do so is.

Over the past month, as the family separations along the border resulting from Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy began to dominate the news, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made his own rejection of compassion for women unambiguous. In early June, he announced that America would no longer consider domestic violence a reason for asylum. In making this determination he went so far as to personally investigate a young woman who had escaped abuse in El Salvador — first finding safety by entering into Texas — and was now living in the U.S., stoking her fear and confusion. 

And the recklessness of the “zero tolerance” policy speaks volumes on its own. Women and girls seeking a better life in America — many after fleeing rape, gang violence and threats of death — are frequently abused again once in federal custody. The risk is often greatest for girls without their caregivers, as recent reports on atrocities committed against unaccompanied children makes clear.

This is not a new tragedy, but the Trump administration significantly heightened the risk by  dramatically increasing the use of detention and sending thousands of migrant children across the country without bothering to ensure their parents knew where they would be placed. Many of the Texas detention centers that are currently housing members of separated families have faced continual allegations of guards sexually assaulting women and child abuse.

And in times of confusion and disarray, the rate of crimes against migrants in our government’s custody seems to worsen. Unfortunately, all evidence — from a complete lack of planning on how to reunite families to border officials’ recent statement that they wouldn’t pursue family detention (for now) because of a lack of resources — points to the fact that Trump’s policies have pushed the U.S. immigration system into new levels of chaos, meaning new levels of violence that will be carried out in Texas.

The ramifications of this state of affairs do not seem to trouble the Trump administration.

During a mid-June White House press briefing, after a reporter raised the lack of girls in public pictures of migrant children under U.S. custody, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security dodged the question: “Do you know where the girls are?”

And Scott Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the government agency in charge of overseeing the well-being of over 2,000 migrant children taken away from their parents, has not made any official statement since April, despite public demand for assurances about what is happening to those children.

Lloyd’s silence is all the more telling given his past visibility on another issue related to girls in his care: going to great lengths to manipulate and emotionally abuse a young woman who had been raped in an attempt to stop her from ending her pregnancy.

And in the background of these actions, the continual fear-mongering of the administration against immigrants has led to decreased reporting of rape and domestic violence in Latino communities. Last year, Houston alone saw domestic violence reports from the Hispanic community drop by 16 percent. While less dramatic than the events described above, this pervasive harm affects our neighbors and communities no less directly.

Texans must act to reverse this harm to women and girls. The most direct route is clearly at the ballot box come November. Texas officials who have fallen in line with the president’s policies should be voted out. We should also pressure not only those who represent us in D.C., but also the state and local politicians who can take action to end cooperation with federal immigration officials. We can work to counter the terrorizing of immigrants by showing respect and humanity to the many who love and work in our communities.

Throughout his government, Trump has succeeded in appointing officials who are either racist and cruel or spineless and blinded by personal ambition. Despite continual contradictions in other areas of policy, these officials have consistently sharpened the immigration system into a weapon against those who most need our country’s protection.

Any Texan who sits at home is complicit in that abuse. 

Maggie Jo Buchanan

Women's health policy consultant