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Violence Against Women
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Violence against immigrant and refugee women

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No one deserves to be hit or mistreated. You can get help, even if you do not have legal papers giving you permission to be in the United States. Keep reading to learn more about getting help.

An immigrant or refugee woman may face many of the same challenges as any other abused woman. In addition, she may face some unique challenges, such as being:

  • Made to "lose face" in her community
  • Taught by her culture that family duty comes first
  • Accused of leaving or failing her culture and background
  • Lied to about her partner's ability to have her deported and keep their children
  • Told that in the United States the law says she must have sex with her partner
  • Told that her abuser is allowed to hit her or use other forms of physical punishment

Although immigrant and refugee women may face such challenges, they also often have strong family ties and other sources of support. If you think you are being abused, reach out to someone who cares about you.

Remember, violence is against the law. If your partner abuses you, the police can make an arrest and help you leave safely. If you have been abused, the police usually will not report you to immigration authorities. If the police officers do not speak your language, find someone other than your abuser to translate for you.

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Leaving your partner

If you decide to leave an abusive partner, go to a safe place such as the home of a trusted friend or relative or a local domestic violence shelter. Try to choose a place where your partner will not be able to find you. Keep in mind that shelters will help you no matter what your immigration status.

If you are leaving someone who is an immigrant, it can be helpful to have important information, so try to copy down the number on his resident card or naturalization papers. Learn more about how to get ready if you may need to leave. Take your children with you when you leave. Learn more about how to protect your children.

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Court order of protection (restraining order)

If you are being abused, you can get a court order of protection to protect yourself and your children. You don't have to be a U.S. citizen or legal resident to get a court order of protection.

A court order of protection can:

  • Order the abuser not to have any contact with you and your children
  • Order the abuser to move out of your home and give you use of the car
  • Order the abuser to give you money for you and your children or to continue your insurance coverage

You can get an application for a court order of protection at courthouses, women's shelters, lawyers' offices, and some police stations.

You do not need a lawyer to get a protection order. Still, you may want to get help from a lawyer if you are not legal or if you do not understand your rights. Often, a local domestic violence agency can help you find a lawyer. Some lawyers will help you at no charge.

If an order is issued and the abuser does anything that the order forbids, call the police right away. The police can arrest the abuser for not following the order.

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Protecting your children

Your partner may threaten to take your children if you leave him. Here are some ways you can work to protect your children:

  • Apply for a court order of protection that says your partner has to stay away from you and your children.
  • Apply for a custody order that says your children have to live with you. You can also ask for the order to say that your partner is not allowed to take your children out of the U.S.
  • If you have a court order of protection or custody order, give a copy to your children's school. Ask the school not to release the children to the abuser.
  • Try to prevent your abuser from leaving the country with your child using a U.S. passport. Usually, if your child is under 16, your partner cannot get a U.S. passport for your child without your permission. Also, the U.S. Department of State has an alert program that may let you object to a passport being given to children up to the age of 18. Learn more about this passport alert program.
  • Try to prevent your child from leaving the U.S. using a passport from another country. Your child may have citizenship from another country (either instead of U.S. citizenship or in addition to it). If so, contact that country's embassy in the U.S., and ask that your child not be given a passport. Include a copy of a custody order or a court order that prevents your child from leaving the country. This may help convince the embassy to grant your request.
  • Keep important items handy. Make sure you have recent pictures of your children and their passports and birth certificates. The police can help you better if you have these items.
  • Compile contact information. Make a list of your partner's family and friends, including their addresses and phone numbers. This can help if your partner takes your children.

You may be able to get child support from your partner. A lawyer can help you with this. Ask your local domestic violence shelter for help finding a lawyer.

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Deportation concerns

If you are a U.S. citizen or a legal resident or have a valid visa, you cannot be deported unless you used fake documents to enter the country, broke the rules of your visa, or committed certain crimes.

If you are undocumented (don't have legal papers to be in the U.S.) or are not sure about your immigration status, you should talk to an immigration lawyer. Your local domestic violence shelter can help you find an immigration lawyer. There are lawyers who will help you at no charge.

If you report domestic violence to the police, they usually will not report you to immigration authorities. Still, you should carry the name of an immigration lawyer in case you need it.

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Becoming legal

You should talk to an immigration lawyer before taking steps to become legal. Your local domestic violence shelter can help you find a lawyer. Some lawyers will help you at no charge if you don't have much money. Remember that your lawyer will not tell anyone what you say without your permission.

If you are married to a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, usually your spouse has to apply for legal permanent residency for you. But in cases of domestic abuse you can apply for residency for you and your children by yourself, and your partner doesn't have to know. This is called self-petitioning, and there are specific rules about who can apply for residency this way.

If you are already in deportation hearings and are a victim of domestic abuse, you may be able to have your deportation cancelled and become a permanent resident. This is called a cancellation of removal and also has specific rules about who can apply for it.

Talk to an immigration lawyer to find out more about these and other options. Also keep in mind that you should not say you are a U.S. citizen if you are not. You also should not use false papers to work in the U.S.

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Content last updated May 18, 2011.

Resources last updated May 18, 2011.

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