Leaving an abuser is difficult, no matter who you are. But for survivors in immigrant communities, reporting domestic violence could mean risking the right to live in the U.S. at all.
Learn more about domestic violence in immigrant communities and how victims can escape safely.
Rates of Abuse in Immigrant Communities
Abuse can happen anywhere, to anyone. The rates of abuse in immigrant communities are comparable to nonimmigrant communities. But immigrant survivors face unique circumstances that can place them at greater risk of abuse and make it more difficult to report the abuse and seek help.
Additionally, culture can play a role in domestic abuse, especially among immigrant communities. Read more about culture and its impact on domestic violence here.
Domestic violence in immigrant communities (both documented and undocumented) provides unique challenges not faced by most U.S. citizens.
Challenge One: Undocumented Immigrants
Undocumented immigrants are already living in the shadows. Without proper documentation, there is always a risk of arrest and deportation. Abusers know it and often use that threat to control their victims. He might threaten to reveal her immigration status to her employer, therefore cutting off financial security. Or, he might prevent her from communicating with family back home. He uses her immigration status as a threat to keep her quiet.
Survivors stay, fearing what will happen if they go to the authorities.
Will she lose her children? End up in jail? Be forced to return to a dangerous country? It can feel like a no-win situation.
Challenge Two: Documented and Sponsored Immigrants
Those in the U.S. legally can also face obstacles. Immigrants “sponsored” by a U.S. citizen because of a marriage or other relationship are essentially at the mercy of their sponsor. Abusers sometimes use this sponsorship to intimidate the victim, threatening to claim fraud or otherwise revoke the sponsorship if the victim reports the abuse. Without the sponsorship, the survivor would lose the right to live in the U.S., ultimately creating a power imbalance that favors the abuser.
Thankfully, Congress has passed special routes to citizenship specifically for immigrant abuse victims. This process allows survivors to petition for permanent residence without remaining under the abuser’s sponsorship.
Challenge Three: Barriers to Reporting
Experiencing abuse is difficult for anyone, regardless of immigration status. But those who are not U.S. citizens – especially those who are undocumented – often feel they have no options to escape. These victims are unlikely to approach law enforcement and the justice system, fearing arrest or deportation if they do so.
Some abuse survivors in immigrant communities also struggle with English, making it difficult to navigate their legal options, local resources, and domestic violence shelters. While it is illegal to refuse services to these victims based on their immigration status, the language barrier can make it difficult and uncomfortable for survivors to seek help.
Options for Immigrant Survivors
Immigrant survivors have the same rights as anyone else experiencing domestic violence in the United States. The first step is to know and understand these rights. A more detailed explanation of victim rights under the law can be found here.
Understandably, many undocumented survivors fear reporting the abuse to the police or seeking help from the courts. Unfortunately, there are some instances of immigrants reporting abuse and subsequently being detained because of their status. However, there are many laws in place that protect abuse victims, regardless of their citizenship status.
The nation’s leading domestic violence nonprofit organizations suggest reaching out to an immigration attorney or talking with a local domestic violence advocate before reporting the abuse to the authorities. While it is generally safe to report the abuse, these organizations can create alternative plans for those who do not want to pursue legal action.
For more information about victim and immigration rights, visit:
- Esperanza United is dedicated to supporting Latino/a communities and ending gender-based violence in these communities.
- Women’s Law, a nonprofit providing legal education and support to survivors of domestic violence. This organization has specific resources dedicated to both documented and undocumented immigrants.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline connects survivors with real-time support and resources, from safety planning to crisis intervention.
No one deserves to live in fear. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, don’t wait. Visit one of the websites above or connect with your local domestic violence shelter and get help.