News & Opinion » News

Law could help undocumented domestic violence victims


Last Thursday, in Wayne County, Everardo Donoteo-Reyes was sentenced to 20 years in state prison and five years of probation for the murder of his girlfriend, Selena Hidalogo-Calderon, and her infant son, Owen. Both Calderon and Reyes were undocumented immigrants.

The case brought the issues of domestic violence within undocumented immigrant communities to the forefront. Rural farmworkers who are undocumented are often isolated and when they become victims of crimes — domestic violence is, in fact, a crime — they're reluctant to reach out to law enforcement for fear that they'll be deported or removed from the U.S.

Owen Hidalgo-Calderon was barely more than a year old when he and his mother Selena Hidalgo-Calderon were murdered by her partner in May, 2018. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Owen Hidalgo-Calderon was barely more than a year old when he and his mother Selena Hidalgo-Calderon were murdered by her partner in May, 2018.

But advocates for undocumented workers say the state's new Green Light law, which takes effect on December 16, could help undocumented immigrants who are domestic violence victims get to safety. A federal judge last week dismissed the Erie County clerk's lawsuit challenging the law, which restores undocumented immigrants' ability to get driver's licenses.

"One of the particular tragedies of the situation of undocumented farmworker victims living with domestic violence is that to get to safety often you need a car," said Lauren Deutsch with the Worker Justice Center of New York, which provides services for undocumented people.

Until the Green Light law takes effect, undocumented people found by police driving a car could likely be charged with a crime: driving without a license. If local law enforcement decides to charge an undocumented person with driving without a license, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers sees the records, the person could face deportation proceedings.

"Survivors of domestic violence in general will have that particular layer removed," Deutsch said.

They'll be able to register a car and drive it without fear that they're committing a crime, Deutsch said. They'll also be able to "pick up a child at school if they need to get away with their child."

Selena Hidalogo-Calderon and her 14-month-old son Owen went missing in mid-May of last year. Calderon was 18 at the time. Donoteo-Reyes, who fraudulently assumed the name Alberto Gutierrez on a counterfeit social security card, was arrested on May 24th that same year. In September of this year, Reyes plead guilty to two counts of first-degree manslaughter. He is expected to be deported upon completion of his sentence.

The question of whether someone, including law enforcement, could have intervened to prevent the double homicide is only hindsight, Deutsch said.

"I think it's always easy in retrospect to try to point a finger," Deutsch said. "What I will say is that a lot of undocumented women live with domestic violence because they feel afraid to come forward."

Noelle E. C. Evans is a WXXI News reporter.