Domestic Violence and Immigrants

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What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse in which one person controls another person. Although many believe that domestic violence only includes physical violence, other tactics for abuse include threats, isolation, emotional mistreatment, verbal abuse, and forced sex. While men can 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 include:

  • Threats to have you deported
  • Hiding or destroying important papers
  • Refusing to file immigration papers for you
  • Threats to take away your children

Should I Call the Police?

If you are in immediate danger, get out and call 911, the number for emergencies. If you are in danger but cannot leave, call 911. 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 battered immigrants. Most communities have a domestic violence shelter that can provide you with a place to stay, counseling, or help with other legal matters. To find out about your closest shelter or domestic violence agency, look at Community Services or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1‑800‑799‑7233. Spanish and many other languages are spoken on the hotline.

You can also ask a judge for a Personal Protection Order (PPO). You can ask the judge to forbid the abuser from doing specific things like:

  • Coming to your home
  • Hurting you
  • Threatening you
  • Contacting you

To learn more about PPOs in the US state of Michigan, go to Filing for a Personal Protection Order — Domestic Relationship. (If you live in a different state or territory, you need to check local laws and resources.)

What If I Don’t Have Immigration Papers?

You still have rights! You have the right to live your life free from violence. Your immigration status should not matter to the police, so you should call the police if you need their assistance. Even if you do not have a legal immigration status, you can still ask for a personal protection order (PPO), divorce, or custody from a court in the United States.

Are There Special Immigration Petitions for Victims of Domestic Violence?

If you or your children have been abused by your spouse who is a permanent resident or U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to get valid immigration status under the immigration law. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) may allow you and your children to ask for permanent residency and work permits without help from your abuser.

If you are not married OR your spouse is not a permanent resident or U.S. citizen, there might be other ways that you could qualify for immigration relief if you suffer from domestic violence. For example, the U visa is available for victims of certain crimes who help the police or prosecutors with the investigation of a crime when the victim suffered substantial physical or emotional harm.

To learn more, read Protection for Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence and Visas Available to Victims of Crimes.

What If I Am a U.S. citizen, Permanent Resident, or Refugee?

If you are a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, refugee, or asylee, your immigration status should not be affected by leaving or divorcing your abuser. You have legal status; your abuser does not have the power to have you deported. However, if you are a conditional permanent resident whose status expires after two years, you should talk to an immigration attorney right away. In this case, you will need to file another application. Contact Farmworker Legal Services or the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. To learn more about conditional permanent resident status and other immigration statuses, read Immigration Basics: Status, Law, Agencies, and Courts.

This information was provided by Farmworker Legal Services (FLS). FLS is a legal aid office with lawyers and other legal staff who provide free legal assistance and referrals to migrant and seasonal farmworkers throughout Michigan.