In spring 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security created a new office to serve the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The creation of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office (VOICE), run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the perpetuation of inaccurate stereotypes around immigrant criminality overshadow an unmet need at the intersection of Latinx immigration and crime victimization services: Latinx immigrants are more likely to be victims of certain crimes compared with nonimmigrants and face barriers accessing victim services.
Although all immigrants face language and cultural challenges, undocumented immigrants face other barriers and are particularly vulnerable to victimization.
- Latinx people experience hate crimes at higher rates than white or black people, and these crimes are often centered around immigration. From 2011 to 2015, Latinxs experienced violent hate crimes at a rate nearly twice that of white people (1.3 crimes per 1,000 people versus 0.7 per 1,000) and higher than that of black people (1.0 per 1,000).
- Immigrants are often victims of labor violations, such as labor trafficking and wage theft, because some employers see them (especially undocumented immigrants) as particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Latinx immigrants are six times more likely than their US-born white counterparts to suffer minimum-wage violations.
- Latinx immigrant workers in low-wage, grueling jobs, such as farmwork or meatpacking, are at risk for physical and sexual abuse. Studies of mostly female Latina immigrant workers show that 80 to 90 percent experience sexual violence or harassment at work, compared with less than half of all women.
Beyond these crimes, like all groups, Latinx immigrants find themselves victims of violent and property crimes ranging from robberies to physical and sexual assaults. But Latinx immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, underreport crimes because they fear repercussions. And Latinx immigrants—both documented and undocumented—are less likely to seek formal victim services, such as shelter services and mental health treatment.
These failures to reach Latinx immigrant victims of crime stem from the barriers they face in receiving help. For one, the lack of culturally and linguistically relevant services affects Latinx immigrants’ ability to seek help.
- Latinx victims across the board are less likely than white victims to know about the services available to help them, even though they are interested in accessing services.
- Latinx victims are more likely to contact law enforcement and access services when those services are offered in their primary language. The lack of Spanish-speaking police officers, victim service providers, and other points of contact hinders Latinx immigrant victim access.
- Immigrant victims face a lack of cultural relevance and understanding, patience, and even belief in their stories when attempting to come forward, as shown in Urban’s research on the experiences of sexual assault survivors seeking medical forensic exams.
- The historical tensions between communities of color and law enforcement deter reporting as well. Immigrant victims may not report crimes because they do not expect a helpful response, or any response, from law enforcement, because of past negative experiences in their communities.
Evidence suggests that Latinx immigrant victims may avoid reporting crimes against them and seeking services because they fear deportation. And there are indications that Latinx crime reporting is already down since immigration enforcement has strengthened in the past year.
- Latina immigrant victims face additional challenges to reporting crimes and seeking services, particularly in intimate partner violence situations. A spouse could threaten to report an undocumented woman or could threaten to withdraw or withhold immigration sponsorship.
- Local police cooperating with immigration enforcement further cements fears of deportation and discourages undocumented immigrant crime reporting. Even immigrants with legal status or nonimmigrant Latinx people may hesitate to report crimes because they’re worried they’ll be asked about someone else’s immigration status.
These barriers prevent many Latinx immigrants from reporting crimes committed against them and seeking the services that can help restore their well-being. The current public narrative that portrays immigrants solely as perpetrators of crimes may further discourage Latinx immigrant crime victims. This damaging narrative hides the experiences of Latinx immigrant crime victims. If we care about serving victims of crime, we must recognize Latinx immigrant victimization experiences and create services that can reach all victims, including immigrants.