Dallas lawmaker hopes to make women's shelters off-limits to ICE

A Dallas lawmaker wants to make sure domestic violence shelters are off-limits to immigration enforcement.

State Representative Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) filed a bill that would keep women from fearing deportation if they try to escape an abusive partner.

Amid protests two years ago, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 4 which allowed law enforcement to question detained people about their immigration status. That inspired an amendment from Neave to make places of worship off-limits to immigration enforcement. Now, she has legislation that would provide the same protections to domestic violence shelters.

“We shouldn't have fear about where we're going to go worship or pray, and we want to extend those same protections to domestic violence shelters,” Neave said.

House Bill 62 would make “an exception from requirements to assist or cooperate with federal immigration officers for matters regarding activities that occur at a domestic violence shelter."

Constitutional Law Specialist David Coale believes it’s a good idea.

“We have an exclusion in the statute now for places of worship. This would make domestic violence centers be like that as places you can just go and get your needs taken care of without having to worry about law enforcement immigration status and so forth,” he said. “But is it constitutional? Probably not.”

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata supports the bill.

“I think we’ve got to remember what the ultimate mission is here,” he said. “Giving a safe place to women and family and kids that have been in a battered situation. I don’t think we should do anything that is going to prevent them from seeking help.”

The bill is now pending before the House Affairs Committee, where Neave explained the measure last month. Time is running out in the legislative session.

“We know the reality is it’s an uphill battle to try to get the legislation out of committee. We're very grateful that we had the opportunity to have a hearing, but we still have a lot of work to do. And we are going to do everything we can to advance this legislation.”

The legislation has the backing of Jan Langbein, the executive director for Genesis Women's Shelter. She says domestic violence shelters need be able to provide services regardless of immigration status, and women fearing for their life should not have to fear their freedom also.