Tying the reporting of abuse to immigration restrictions isn’t an effective way of addressing domestic violence among Muslims immigrants or any other community, these advocates argued. If anything, the new policy may make the challenges harder. “After September 11, 2001, we had abusers from certain communities who affirmatively used anti-Muslim hostility as a tool of abuse,” said Huang. Her organization heard cases of abusers saying to victims, “‘If you contact that police, you’re exposing our entire community, our household, and you’re likely to be treated as a criminal as well.’”
Already this year, officials reportedly arrested a woman in El Paso when she went to a courthouse seeking a protective order against her allegedly abusive boyfriend, who likely tipped off authorities about her status as an unauthorized immigrant. Advocates fear this kind of case could have a silencing effect in immigrant communities. “We’ve worked so hard to reassure survivors that … reporting domestic violence won’t actually get them deported,” Abugideiri said. “In an instant, all of that is out the window.”
Then there’s the question of “so-called ‘honor killings.’” Activists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali have tried to raise awareness about these kinds of murders in the United States, arguing that they pose distinctive challenges. As Ali wrote in The Atlantic in 2015, “Honor violence is communally sanctioned and often involves multiple perpetrators within the household or members of the community.” That means law-enforcement officials don’t necessarily respond adequately to victims’ needs, she argues.
But domestic-violence advocates worry that this phrase exacerbates stereotypes about violence in the Muslim community. “It’s reinforcing this idea that foreign immigrant men are violent,” said Mohajir. “In the West, ‘honor killings’ have become a way to otherize immigrant communities and [portray] their gender-based violence to be something so exotic.” The term itself is loaded: It suggests that homicide can be religiously justified. But “‘honor killing’ has nothing to do with Islam,” argued Aisha Rahman, the executive director of Karamah, a research and advocacy organization that works on issues of gender equity in Islam. “In Islamic law, there’s nothing that’s even called ‘honor killing.’”
None of this is meant to downplay the murder of women. “[Honor killings are] appalling,” Mohajir said. “But they’re very similar to other kinds of gender-based violence in other faith communities.” For domestic-abuse advocates, calling out one politically charged category of violence doesn’t actually help women. “Why would an ‘honor killing’ be any more egregious than stalking and homicide?” asked Huang. “Those of us that work with victims are equally concerned about all victims.”
Above all, that seemed to be the greatest concern among the domestic-abuse advocates I spoke with: that this provision is more about targeting immigrants than preventing domestic violence in the United States. “One in four women are victims of domestic violence in the United States,” said Rahman. Immigrants and Muslims both make up small portions of the U.S. population, but in reality, domestic violence is “an epidemic of gargantuan proportions,” she said, affecting all ethnic and religious groups.