Impacts of Domestic Violence on Immigrants

Immigrants are especially vulnerable to domestic violence and face big challenges in leaving an abusive relationship if they:

  • Do not have legal status and are living in fear of detention and deportation
  • Are being threatened with deportation by their abuser
  • Are afraid to contact the police, apply for a protection order or turn to service agencies because of their legal status
  • Are afraid they will be detained if they go to court
  • Have had their passport and other legal papers confiscated by their abuser
  • Have had their attempts to work or go to school sabotaged by their abuser
  • Have a legal immigration status that is dependent upon the relationship with their abuser
  • Have limited English language skills and rely on their abuser or children for translation and access to information
  • Are confused about local systems and resources
  • Are afraid they may lose their children if they seek help
  • Are unable to obtain a protection order or other legal remedies because they cannot fully express their situation in English or because they are ashamed
  • Don’t have family or friends in this country
  • Are part of a small immigrant community and don’t feel able to speak out about the abuse, or have spoken out and are disbelieved, blamed or shamed
  • Can’t access certain public supports because they don’t have legal status
  • Are afraid that accessing supports will affect their future legal status
  • Can no longer seek asylum on the grounds of domestic violence in their home country
  • Are unable to work because they do not have legal status or are here on a non-work visa

Undocumented survivors have some legal options to help keep them safe and in the U.S.

Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA)

The Violence Against Women Act allows an abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, or an abused parent of a child who is a U.S. citizen, to self-petition for lawful status, obtain authorization for employment, and access public benefits. This protection also applies to men who are being abused.

U Visa

Immigrant survivors who have been helpful in a criminal investigation or prosecution of their domestic violence may qualify for a U Visa, which can lead to a green card.

Battered Spouse Waiver

Immigrants who marry U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents can obtain a 2-year conditional green card. Within 90 days of the 2-year anniversary of that green card, immigrants and their spouses must file a joint petition asking for a 10- year green card. With a Battered Spouse Waiver, survivors can file petitions without waiting 2 years, allowing them to have the 2-year limitation on their green card removed without the help or knowledge of their abusers. Conditions include that the marriage must be in good faith, and that the spouse or child experienced physical violence and/or extreme cruelty by the abusive partner.

New Beginnings welcomes all immigrant survivors, regardless of legal status. Immigration law is complex, and we can provide legal advocacy and help connect you with legal support. Call our 24-hour Helpline for more information.