Domestic Violence and Immigrants

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid



What is domestic violence? Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse in which one individual uses tactics to control another person. Many people believe that ‘Domestic Violence’ means only physical abuse, but the truth is that it also includes other tactics of abuse, including threats, isolation, emotional or verbal abuse, and sexual relations without consent. While men can also be victims of domestic violence, the majority of victims are women. 


How does domestic violence affect immigrants? If you are not a citizen, some types of abuse may be unique to your situation. Some common forms of abuse are: 

-Your abuser is threatening to have you deported 

-Hiding or destroying important papers 

-Threatening to take your children away 

-Denying filing your immigration papers 

Should I call the police? If you are in immediate danger, get out and call 9-1-1, the line for emergencies. If you are in danger but cannot leave, call 9-1-1. The police will escort you and your children to a safe place if you want to leave. 


What should I do if my partner is abusing me? In every community, there is help for immigrants who are victims of abusive relationships. Many communities have shelters for victims of domestic violence. They provide temporary housing, advice, or assistance for legal issues. For more information about shelters in your area, call 1-800-799-7233, the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They will gladly provide information. They speak Spanish, and other languages. 


What if I don’t have papers? Even if you do not have immigration documents, you still have rights. Among them, you have the right to live a life free of violence. Generally, the police will not question you about your immigration status if you are a victim of violence, and you can call the police if you need assistance. Finally, even if you do not have legal immigration status, you may apply for divorce and legal custody of your children in the U.S. without prejudice. 


Are there special immigration petitions for victims of domestic violence? Yes. If you or your children have been abused in any way by your spouse and he/she is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, it is possible that you are eligible for legal residency under immigration law. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) may allow you and your children to petition for yourself–without the support or help of the abuser–in order to receive permanent residency and permission to work. Men may also be victims of domestic violence, and they are also eligible to obtain immigration benefit under VAWA. If you are not married or your partner does not have legal status (citizenship or permanent residency), and you are a victim of domestic violence, you may qualify for help under other immigration laws. To get more information, call our office or speak to an immigration lawyer. 


What if I am a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or refugee? Your U.S. citizenship, permanent residency, or refugee status will not change if you leave an abusive relationship or divorce your abuser. You have legal status; your abuser does not have the power to have you deported by Immigration. 


If I need to leave, what do I take with me?  You should take the most important documents with you, including: 

-Immigration documents (above all, copies of your documents from your abusive partner) 

-Driver’s license 

-Police reports 

-Court records 

-Medical documents (records from doctors, clinics, hospitals, etc.) 

-Birth certificates for you and your children 

-Marriage license 

-Contracts, mortgages, or deeds to your house. 

Last Review and Update: Oct 26, 2022
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