Immigration and Domestic Violence: What Does the Law Do to Help Battered Women?

Immigrants face many challenges, including the challenge of adjusting to a new country, a new culture, and a new language. When newcomers have the support of their immediate family, the process of adjusting to a new country can be easier. Unfortunately, some immigrants face domestic violence in their homes, creating whole new sets of challenges. While there are laws in the US which allow battered family members to seek legal residency, many immigrants are unaware of this type of help. As a result, many victims of domestic violence do not seek help, especially in cases where their status depends on an abusive spouse and in cases where the victim does not have legal status and fears deportation.

In many cases, victims of violence remain silent, fearful of immigration problems or financial distress, until they end up in the emergency room due to the violence. Once victims step forward, they find that there is a system of support, including organizations that help victims of domestic violence. Non-profit legal agencies often help victims pursue legal status in the US.

Part of the problem, however, is making victims aware of their rights. In many cases, victims of violence come to the US to join families or partners. They may not be aware of US laws and may not speak the language well enough to get help when they need it. In many cases, abusive family members may tell their victims lies about their status or about the consequences of reporting abuse, making victims reluctant to come forward.

There are in fact two options for battered spouses in the US to pursue legal residency. The  Violence Against Women Act allows battered women to apply for work permits and legal US residency on their own, without relying on an abusive partner. The act was passed in 1994.

Another option is the U visa. Newcomers can obtain this visa if they have been the victim of a crime and cooperate with police in finding and prosecuting the perpetrator. The U visa even allows victims to sponsor their children. Even if someone is in the country illegally, they may qualify for a U visa if they have been the victim of a crime and help police solve the crime. The law was passed in 2007 and was designed to ensure that undocumented immigrants were not afraid to cooperate with police if they were victimized. In some cases, women who come to the US fleeing abusive relationships at home can also apply for asylum status. Although this is rarer, asylum has been granted for this reason.