Portland City Hall Approves New Legal Help for Immigrants at Domestic Violence Center

A lower percentage of Latina women are seeking help at the center — and advocates blame fear of the immigration crackdown.

An immigration protest at Portland's ICE headquarters in March. (Emily Joan Greene)

A  smaller percentage of the people seeking help at a Portland domestic violence services center this year were Latino—and advocates suggest that's because of the immigration crackdown under President Donald Trump.

In 2016, 15 percent of visitors to the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services identified as Latina. In the first quarter of 2017, that number dropped to 10.4 percent, according to Gateway's data.

"Since the presidential election, the Trump administration's abrupt actions have created an unnecessary climate of fear across our country," said Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman at a council meeting on Wednesday, June 14.

"Regardless of legal status or residency, our immigrant and refugee neighbors are scared to engage in everyday activities, especially when intersecting with public safety services."

City Hall is trying to help. At Saltzman's request, the council unanimously approved a grant agreement with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services (CILS) for $60,000 on Wednesday.

The grant will help CILS provide intake, consultation and immigration relief for immigrant and refugee survivors of domestic abuse at the Gateway Center.

According to the resolution presented before City Council, the $60,000 will help CILS provide "know your rights" workshops, intake and consultation for immigrant survivors one day per week, and 20 to 25 visas for immigrant survivors.

The grant will fund services through June 30, 2018.

"Abusers will exploit any vulnerability to maintain control over their victims," Gateway director Martha Strawn Morris told the council. "We have long understood that immigration relief would help wrest control from abusers, which is our mission and our job."

If the victim is collaborating with law enforcement by helping provide evidence for a crime, they may qualify for T Visas and U Visas, which allows them to remain in the United States while collaborating with law enforcement after reporting a crime.

Survivors that come to Gateway are often eligible for visas, but must be redirected elsewhere to receive immigration relief services due to a lack of resources.

"Right now, we're asking folks to go to Catholic Charities, to go to a different center, to go all over the county or the region to get immigration legal support services," said Patricia Rojas, executive director of El Programa Hispano Católico, a cultural partner at Gateway, during the hearing. "We're putting undocumented survivors at unnecessary risk by doing that."

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly expressed concern that ICE could target immigrants at Gateway for deportation.

Gateway is guarded by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. "Our facility security officer understands that he would treat ICE officers like any member of the public," Morris said, "any member of the public that came to the Gateway Center could not learn who was inside the Gateway Center seeking services."

Several council members agreed that more funding would likely be necessary for Gateway to continue providing immigration relief services, before unanimously voting to pass the ordinance.

In February, City Council approved a $50,000 grant for the Metropolitan County Defender's Immigrant Protection Project, which seeks to provide at least two immigration attorneys in Portland.

This March, City Council passed a resolution declaring Portland a sanctuary city , "welcoming city" and "an inclusive city to all."

"We promised we were going to do a whole range of things to support people in our community who are vulnerable and terrified," said Commissioner Amanda Fritz. "It's not all that we need to do, though."

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