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"I spoke out to put a face to the issue for the millions of women, men and children who suffer in silence and to say that you are not alone. Help is available." ~ Ayanna Pressley, Boston City Councilor (Photo by Christopher Mason)

For People Who are Immigrants and Refugees

Domestic and sexual violence is against the law in the United States. It doesn’t matter if the sexual or domestic violence happened for the first time when you came to this country, or if it happened before arriving and has continued. The fact is that sexual and domestic violence can happen regardless of where we live, who we are, who we love, where we come from, what our economic status is, what language we speak, or what our citizenship status is.

This section will help you learn more about the issue and who you can talk to about your options for safety.

In addition to general concerns and fears, being an immigrant or refugee can also mean additional challenges to finding safety from abuse. For example:

  • Your abuser may lie to you about your rights, use your cultural background against you, or use threats about child custody or deportation to silence and frighten you.
  • You may worry what might happen if your abuser is deported.
  • You may feel dependent on your abuser economically or for immigration status.
  • You may worry about your family here or in your home country if you choose to speak out about the abuse.
  • You may feel that you can’t reach out for help if English is not your first language.
  • You may feel ashamed about the abuse or concerned about what your community will think if they know about the abuse you are experiencing.
  • If you’re undocumented, you may worry about whether it’s safe to talk to your doctor or anyone about what’s happening at home.
  • If you’re undocumented, you may worry about whether you can use or trust the court system to keep you safe. Additionally, turning to the police or other authorities may seem unwise, if these were sources of danger or abuse in your home country.

It’s common to feel overwhelmed, confused, afraid, depressed, alone and unsure of what to do when thinking about your situation. You may not be sure what your options are or where to turn for help.

Things You Should Know

  • You have the right to live free from sexual and domestic violence.
  • Abuse is about power and control and is not your fault.
  • There are immigration, employment, housing and welfare options for you.

The United States has passed two laws to help make sure that immigrant survivors/victims of sexual or domestic violence can seek safety and support in this country. Even if you are an undocumented immigrant, there are different ways to gain lawful status in the U.S. without the knowledge of their abuser. If you have questions about your immigration status, it is important to contact an attorney who specializes in this work to assist you.

Here are two options that may be available to you:

VAWA Self-Petitions
If your abuser is a US citizen or legal permanent resident and you are either: 1) the battered spouse; 2) the child/step-child who was battered or witnessed spousal abuse of your parent/ step-parent; or 3) you are a parent who is battered by your adult child, you may be eligible to file an immigrant visa petition (self-petition) under the Violence against Women Act (VAWA). You may be eligible for this form of relief regardless of how you entered the country. Through the VAWA Self-Petition, you may eventually become eligible for employment authorization and a green card without the knowledge or consent of your abuser.

U-Visas for Victims of Crime
If you are a victim of a crime (including domestic violence and/or sexual assault) and are undocumented, you may be eligible for a U-Visa. The U-Visa is a special class of visas issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The U-Visa is generally available for crime victims who (1) have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from criminal activity; (2) have information regarding the criminal activity; (3) assist government officials in the investigation or prosecution of such criminal activity. U-Visa holders receive employment authorization and a path to a green card.

For Help and More Information

If this is an emergency, please call 911 to talk to the police.

In Massachusetts, local domestic and sexual violence programs provide free and confidential services to any victim or survivor regardless of your immigration status.  Advocates are there to listen to your concerns and work with you to help you and your family live in safety and with dignity.

Many of these programs are part of a network called RISE (Refugee and Immigrant Safety and Empowerment). The advocates in these programs provide education and outreach to particular ethnic communities on violence against women, sexual violence, and domestic violence. Additionally, these programs provide direct services to victims, from cultural and linguistic minority backgrounds, who have experienced domestic violence and/or sexual assault.


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