The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
September 25, 2017

Latinx immigrant crime victims fear seeking help

September 25, 2017

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.

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.

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.  

Undocumented Mexican immigrant Adela Banuelos, 52, whos five children were born in the U.S., looks out from her home on June 7, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. She has lived in the United States for 32 years, having come from Zacatecas, Mexico in 1984. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

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