When a domestic abuse victim needs legal help, immigration status shouldn’t matter. However, for undocumented survivors, immigration status all too-often plays a role in the decision to seek safety and protection, or stay in an abusive relationship.
For victims of domestic abuse, navigating the legal system is a complex, confusing task. However, for undocumented immigrants, this difficulty is often amplified. Fear of arrest and deportation makes victims of domestic violence question if appearing in front of a judge is a better choice than staying with an abusive partner. In some cases, the accused abuser will threaten to alert ICE, the police, or a judge to the victim’s immigration status if the courts get involved.
Though the Violence Against Woman Act (VAWA) offers 10,000 U-Visas and T-Visas pear year, many victims may not know about this program without assistance from an immigration specialist attorney. A report from the Tahirih Justice Center shows the hesitancy to report abuse among undocumented immigrants. The report surveyed 715 advocates and attorneys, uncovering critical key findings that shine a light on grave situations many undocumented victims of domestic abuse find themselves in:
- Nearly 78% of immigrant survivors are concerned that they will be detained if they file a police report or call 911.
- Immigrant survivors with an abuser who is a U.S. citizen are unlikely to report domestic abuse.
- Seventy-five percent of advocates interviewed stated their clients had concerns about going to court for matters related to an abuser and even convicted offenders.
- Forty-three percent of advocates reported working with an immigrant survivor who dropped civil or criminal cases because of fear of being deported.
The report highlights the vulnerability of immigrant survivors as well as how limited they believe their options are when trying to seek safety and protection from their abusers. Undocumented immigrant survivors may not have a strong grasp of the English language, be unfamiliar with local laws related to child custody, and not know that protective measures like temporary restraining orders exist.
Immigration lawyers can be a strong asset to undocumented domestic violence victims—if an immigration lawyer can be found—to provide legal advocacy services.
Domestic violence agencies rely on a network of paid and pro-bono immigration attorneys to make sure abuse victims can concentrate on finding safety and obtaining freedom, not deportation. If deportation remains a threat, undocumented victims may feel forced to remain with their abusers.
How HAWC Helps
HAWC educates victims of domestic abuse on the possible immigration relief available to them. Through its network of community partners HAWC connects victims of domestic abuse with the immigration services they need. When you donate to HAWC, you’re helping undocumented immigrant survivors obtain access to legal advocates and lawyers who can help them navigate through the challenges of the legal system.
Every donation puts our organization closer to hiring an immigration staff attorney and creating pro-bono relationships with immigration attorneys that can further help domestic abuse victims.
Donate today and help us expand our relationships with the legal immigration experts that play a critical role in keeping victims safe.
- Lockhart, PR (May 25, 2017). Women are Now Living with Fear of Deportation If They Report Domestic Violence. Mother Jones. Retrieved from
- 2017 Advocate and Legal Service Survey Regarding Immigrant Survivors. National Network to End Domestic Violence. Retrieved from