Domestic violence hotline: Immigration-linked calls increase

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NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s most prominent domestic violence hotline says there has been a sharp increase in calls from abuse victims struggling with issues related to their immigration status.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, established by Congress in 1996 and partly reliant on federal funding, says in its newly released annual report that it responded to 323,660 phone calls, texts and online contacts in 2016. More than 7,000 of the calls evoked immigration-related issues — up nearly 30 percent from 2015.

Katie Ray-Jones, the hotline’s CEO, said many of the callers were not U.S. citizens and said their abusers warned that they and their families would be deported if the abuse was reported to the police. In some cases, she said, the abusers had threatened to call federal immigration authorities.

Ray-Jones said the surge in immigration-related calls became noticeable in mid-2016 at a time when Donald Trump was clinching the Republican presidential nomination and the GOP platform was echoing his calls for tough enforcement of immigration laws.

One worrisome development, Ray-Jones said, is that relatives, friends and neighbors of immigrant abuse victims who might have reported abuse in the past are now wary of doing so for fear they might be targeted for deportation.

In the current environment, hotline staffers find it challenging to respond to some of the calls, Ray-Jones said.

“We’re not in a place where we can say, ‘Oh, don’t worry. That’s not going to happen,'” she said.

She said hotline staffers still encourage victims to seek refuge at domestic violence shelters, even though some victims fear such facilities might be targeted by immigration authorities.

“We’ve yet to hear of a story of a shelter being raided,” Ray-Jones said.

Release of the new hotline data comes amid widening debate over how federal immigration policies are affecting domestic violence.