FAQs About Domestic Violence For Immigrant Women

WHAT IS “DOMESTIC VIOLENCE”?
Is your partner…

SHOULD I LEAVE MY HOME IF I AM IN DANGER?
YES. Go to a friends house or a battered womens shelter. Shelters are usually free and will often have information about other services available in your location. If you stay with a friend or family member, keep your location secret if possible.

If you leave your home, make every effort to take your children with you. It is also helpful if you can bring the following documents with you~

SHOULD I CALL THE POLICE?
YES. Domestic violence is against the law. The police can escort you and your children out of the house if you want to leave and often can transport you to a safe place. Officers may arrest your husband/intimate partner if they believe a crime has been committed. If the police officer does not speak your language, find someone other than your child or abuser to interpret for you.

Always ask the police to complete a report about the incident and get an incident report number so that you can get a copy of the report later. Also, ask for and write down the name and badge number of the officer making the report.

If your husband/partner is taken into custody, he may be released in as soon as two hours. Use this time to find a safe place to go. The police generally will not report a woman calling for help with domestic violence to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

WHAT ARE RESTRAINING ORDERS?
A restraining order can prohibit the abuser from coming near, attacking, sexually assaulting or contacting you, your children, or other family members. When you are asking for a restraining order, in most states, you can also ask for temporary custody of your children, child support, that the batterer be removed from your home, and that the batterer not interfere with your immigration status. You do not need to be a citizen or legal resident to get a restraining order. If you do get a restraining order always carry it with you. If you notice that your batterer has come near where you work or stay, you can call the police and they will arrest the batterer.

CAN I GET A RESTRAINING ORDER EVEN IF I AM NOT A U.S. CITIZEN?
YES. You do not need to be a citizen or a legal permanent resident to get a restraining order. A lawyer maybe helpful but it is not necessary to have one. Applications for restraining orders are available at court houses, womens shelters, legal service offices and some police stations. Civil courts generally do not ask about a womens immigration status when she asks for a restraining order, a divorce or child custody. Ask an attorney or an immigration advocacy group in your area about the policy in your local court.

HOW CAN I GET LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENCY WITHOUT MY HUSBANDS HELP?
The Violence Against Womens Act (VAWA) creates a way for women married to US citizens or lawful permanent residents (green card holders) to get their residency. This is called self-petitioning. Instead of depending upon your husband to apply for your residency with INS, you can apply on your own for yourself and your children. Your husband plays no role in the process and does not have to know you are applying for residency. Because the law is complicated, you should not go to the INS without first consulting an immigration attorney.

Because you must be married to self-petition, immediately contact an attorney if you receive divorce or annulment papers from your husband.

MY HUSBAND IS THREATENING TO TAKE MY CHILDREN AWAY IF I LEAVE HIM. WHAT CAN I DO?
If your husband/partner is threatening to take your children away or take them to his home country, you should:

  1. Immediately get a custody order. The order can include an order to prohibit your husband/partner from removing the children from the country in which you live.
  2. If the children are U.S. citizens, send a copy of this order to the embassy of your husbands/partners home country and a copy to the U.S. Department of State to prevent the issuance of passports and visas for the children.
  3. Give a copy of the order to the childrens schools and tell the schools not to release the children to anyone but yourself.
  4. Make sure that you have recent photos, passports and birth certificates for the children. Keep a list of addresses and phone numbers of your husbands/partners friends and relatives in his home country.

I AM A LEGAL PERMANENT RESIDENT. AM I ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE WELFARE AND MEDICAID?
Some legal permanent residents are eligible for Food Stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families and general assistance from government organizations. In some states, such as California, getting public assistance could result in their citizenship petition being rejected.

ARE MY U.S. CITIZEN CHILDREN ELIGIBLE FOR PUBLIC BENEFITS AND MEDICARD?
YES. Even if you are undocumented, your U.S. citizen children are eligible for public benefits just as other citizen children are. However, if you are undocumented, DO NOT reveal your immigration status when applying for benefits on behalf of your children, even if you are asked. The welfare office does not need to know your status in order to give benefits to your citizen children.

WILL I BE DEPORTED IF I TAKE ANY OF THE ABOVE ACTIONS?
If you are a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident or possess a valid visa, you cannot be deported unless you entered the U.S. on fraudulent documents, violated conditions of your visa or have committed certain crimes.

If you are undocumented or are unsure about your immigration status, you should seek the help of an immigration attorney to see if you can legalize your status. Until then, you should do what you need to do to make sure that you and your children are safe. Even if your husband/partner were to report you to the INS, deportation may not follow, would not be immediate and, in most cases, you would have the opportunity to present your case to a judge.

WILL MY HUSBAND/PARTNER BE DEPORTED IF I TAKE ACTION?
Seeking assistance from shelters and lawyers is extremely unlikely to result in the deportation of your husband/partner.

If you contact the police and your husband/partner is convicted of a crime, he may be deported, depending on his immigration status and the seriousness of the crime.

It is important to remember that you must keep yourself and your children safe. It is your husband/partner that has put himself at risk by his actions.

Reproduced in part from materials written by Donna Norton and produced by the Family Violence Prevention Fund. You can visit FVPF WEBSITE to order this brochure