Like all people, immigrants -especially females- are at high risk for domestic violence. However, due to their immigration status, they may face a more difficult time escaping abuse. Immigrant women often feel trapped in abusive relationships because of immigration laws, language barriers, social isolation, and lack of financial resources.
Despite recent federal legislation that has opened new and safe routes to immigration status for some immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, abuse is still a significant problem for immigrant women, as it is for all women in the United States.
All people in the United States, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, are guaranteed basic protections under both civil and criminal law. Under U.S. law, any crime victim, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, can call the police for help or obtain a protection order.
According the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.) regardless of status, immigrant women have the right to:
• Obtain a Protection From Abuse order (PFA) for themselves and their children.
• Seek a divorce in accordance to their local laws.
• Share certain marital property.
• Ask for custody of child(ren) and financial support from their spouse.
• Access help provided by government or non-governmental agencies, which may include: counseling, interpreters, safety planning, emergency housing and even monetary assistance.
Abusers of immigrant women may use tactics such as not allowing the woman to learn to speak, read or write in English; withholding important official documents regarding her immigration status; destroying important documents regarding immigration status; lying about her status to her to keep her scared and dependent and threats about the children’s custody based on inaccurate information.
These challenges apply to women living in the U.S. legally or illegally. Their abuser may threaten to accuse them of a crime, which causes extreme fear if immigration status is also a concern for the woman. If an immigrant woman’s abuser accuses her of a crime she has basic rights, regardless of her status, to a lawyer and the right to not answer questions without a lawyer present.