Immigrant Women and Domestic Violence
Immigrant victims of domestic violence face unique challenges when trying to escape their abusers. They often feel trapped in their relationships because of immigration laws, language barriers, social isolation, and a lack of financial resources. Despite recent changes in federal laws, domestic violence remains a significant problem for immigrant women.
Married immigrant women experience higher levels of physical and sexual abuse than unmarried immigrant women, 59.5 percent compared to 49.8 percent, respectively.
-Source: Dutton, Mary; Leslye Orloff, and Giselle Aguilar Hass. 2000. “Characteristics of Help-Seeking Behaviors, Resources, and Services Needs of Battered Immigrant Latinas: Legal and Policy Implications.” Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy. 7(2).
- Abusers use their victim’s immigration status as a tool to force the victim to remain in the relationship.
Many victims come from cultures that accept domestic violence.
- Immigrant victims have less access to legal and social services than U.S. citizens.
- Immigrant batterers and victims may believe that the penalties and protections of the U.S. legal system do not apply to them.
- For victims who do not speak English there can be a lack of access to bilingual shelters, financial assistance, or food. It is also unlikely that they will have the assistance of a certified interpreter during their interactions with the legal system (court, police, 9-1-1, acquiring information about the legal system.)
Q: CAN I GET A PROTECTION ORDER EVEN IF I AM NOT A U.S. CITIZEN?
A: YES. You do not need to be a citizen or legal permanent resident to get a protection order. An advocate from your local crisis center can assist you with this process.
Q: HOW CAN I GET LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENCY WITHOUT MY PARTNER’S HELP?
A: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) creates two ways for domestic violence victims married to US citizens or lawful permanent residents to get their residency. The first is called “self petitioning.” Instead of depending upon your spouse to apply for your residency with INS, you can apply on your own for yourself and your children. Your spouse plays no role in the process and does not have to know you are applying for residency. Because the law is complicated, you should not go to the INS without first consulting a domestic violence advocate, or an immigration attorney. The second method for obtaining residency is called “cancellation of removal.” This method is only available to you if you are in, or can be placed into, deportation proceedings. If you qualify for cancellation, the court may waive your deportation and grant you residency. However, because you must be in deportation proceedings before you can apply, be certain to see an immigration attorney before proceeding. If you don’t seem to qualify under VAWA there may be other ways you could get immigration status, such as a new visa Congress has created for crime victims. The best thing to do is to discuss your situation with an immigration or domestic violence advocate (do NOT call INS.)
Q: WILL I BE DEPORTED IF I TAKE ANY OF THE ABOVE ACTIONS?
A: If you are now a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident or possess a valid visa, you cannot be deported unless you entered the United States on fraudulent documents, violated conditions of your visa or have committed certain crimes. If you are undocumented or are unsure about your immigration status, you should seek the assistance of an immigration attorney to see if you can legalize your status. Until then, you should do what you need to do to make yourself safe. Even if your partner were to report you to the INS, deportation may not follow, would not be immediate, and, in most cases, you would have the opportunity to present your case to a judge.
Q: WILL MY INTIMATE PARTNER BE DEPORTED IF I TAKE ACTION?
A: Seeking assistance from shelters or lawyers is extremely unlikely to result in the deportation of your partner. If you contact the police and your intimate partner is convicted of a crime, he/she may be deported, depending on his/her immigration status and the seriousness of the crime. It is important to remember that you must keep yourself and your children safe. It is your partner that has put himself/herself at risk by his/her actions.
Adapted from the brochure “You have a Right to Be Free From Violence In Your Home: Questions and Answers For Immigrant and Refugee Women” produced by the Family Violence Prevention Fund. This resources is available on their website in English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Russian, and Korean.
For more information on local resources contact your local domestic violence provider. To find the agency in your community visit our member program page or call the statewide domestic violence hotline 1-866-644-3574 anytime day or night. The call is free and you do not have to give your name.
- New Hampshire Catholic Charities, Immigration and Refugee Services
- Womenslaw.org : This site has information on immigration benefits available to victims of domestic violence under VAWA (available in english and spanish), and U Visa laws for crime victims (available in english, spanish)
- Revolution: a journal for those working to stop sexual and domestic violence, Vol. 4
This publication from the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance is a special report on working with immigrant survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence.