CREDIT: Bebeto Matthews/ AP
More than two decades ago, the discovery of a lifeless four year old in a blue picnic cooler made national headlines. No parent came forward to claim the body. The trail went cold, so the police named her “Baby Hope” and pooled money to pay for her headstone and cemetery plot. Through an anonymous tip and DNA verification, police found out Baby Hope’s real name– Anjelica Castillo. They also found her undocumented mother, who police believe was too afraid to report her daughter’s disappearance because of her immigration status.
The 22-year-old cold case ended on Saturday with a confession by Angelica’s cousin, Conrado Juarez, who allegedly sexually assaulted and smothered her to death. Her mother, Margarita Castillo, believed that her daughter had been living with relatives after she split with Anjelica’s father.
When asked why she hadn’t reported her daughter’s disappearance earlier, Castillo told The New York Daily News, “I didn’t speak English. You feel dumb going to the police station and asking for a translator. I was intimidated. It’s hard to explain. I felt ignorant about the process.”
Castillo’s fear of deportation and her husband’s family, is sadly all too common among the undocumented immigrant community. Between 2010 to 2012, more than 200,000 undocumented parents were deported and ripped away from their U.S. citizen children. A 2013 survey found that 70 percent of undocumented Latinos were less likely to contact police officers if they are crime victims.
Another study shows that immigrant women are three to six times more likely to face gender-based violence than their American-born peers. A startling 77 percent of immigrants who are dependent on their spouses for immigration status experienced domestic violence. And women who face a language barrier, as in Castillo’s case, are not always aware that some non-profit organizations that shelter abused women are exempt from inquiring about immigration status.
This mistrust of law enforcement officials is not unfounded. In one instance, an undocumented immigrant was placed in deportation proceedings days after his collaboration as a police informant helped law enforcement officials to bust a drug trafficking organization. Even a 59 year old grandmother who drove without a license was given a set time period to “voluntarily” leave the country, then later taken to an immigration detention facility.
Cooperation with police investigations is also hindered by programs like Secure Communities, which asks local police to check the immigration status of anyone who comes in, and Arizona’s anti-immigration SB 1070 law, which allows police officers to question the legal status of undocumented immigrants who report abuse or crime. In 2011, Republicans proposed the HALT Act, which gave law enforcement officials the ability to deport undocumented immigrants when they report crime.
Yet in a promising turn of events, some state legislators now understand that immigrant trust is crucial to solving cases. California recently became the second state to pass the TRUST Act, which prohibits law enforcement officials from detaining non-serious offenders on behalf of federal immigration authorities. Also encouraging was the Congress reauthorization of VAWA, which allows undocumented immigrants to seek legal relief when their abusers exploit their immigration status as leverage to stay. In the years since Anjelica’s disappearance, the NYPD is also trying to improve immigrant outreach efforts through cultural sensitivity trainings.