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Violence against immigrant and refugee women

Violence against immigrant and refugee women

Female immigrants or refugees face many of the same challenges as other abused women. However, they may also face some unique challenges, such as a fear of being deported or of losing custody of their children. Physical, sexual, emotional, or other type of abuse is never OK, even if it happens within a marriage. Violence against women is also against the law, even when the abuser or victim is not a U.S. citizen.

What can prevent immigrant and refugee women from reporting violence or abuse?

Immigrant and refugee women may not report violence or abuse because they may be:

  • Humiliated by their community
  • Taught that family duty comes first
  • Accused of leaving or failing their culture and background
  • Lied to about their partner’s ability to have them deported and keep their children
  • Told that in the United States, the law says a woman must have sex with her partner
  • Told that their abuser is allowed to hit them or use other forms of physical punishment on them

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.

How can women who are immigrants report violence or abuse?

You can report a crime regardless of your immigration status. Violence is against the law. If you have been abused, you do not have to respond to questions about your immigration status. If the police officers do not speak your language, ask the police to provide a translator or find someone who can translate for you.

You can also call the free National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE (7233), for help and resources in your area.

Can I be deported if I report abuse?

You cannot be deported if you are a U.S. citizen or a legal resident or have a valid visa. The only exceptions to this are if 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 United States) 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. You may be able to get a lawyer at no charge.

You may also be able to:1

  • Apply for a green card yourself without needing your partner to file for immigration benefits for you. This is called self-petitioning. You can apply on your own if you are a victim of domestic violence and are the child, parent, or current or former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder). Learn more about self-petitioning.
  • Get a U nonimmigration status visa (U visa). The U visa gives protection to victims of domestic violence or sexual assault who are not U.S. citizens. The U visa can be a path to a green card.

Can I get a restraining order if I am not a U.S. citizen?

Yes. You can get a restraining order (or court order of protection) even if you are not a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States. A restraining order can prevent your partner from contacting or touching you. You can get an application for a restraining order at a courthouse, women’s shelter, or police station. Getting a restraining order is free.

How can I protect my children?

If you are worried about the safety of yourself and your children, you can:

  • File a restraining order (or court order of protection)
  • 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 may not take your children back to your home country. Notify the U.S. Department of State’s alert program if you’re worried your partner will try to take your children out of the country.

If you have a protection order or custody order, give a copy to your children’s school. Ask the school not to release the children to the abuser or anyone else not legally allowed access to your children.

How is female genital cutting related to violence against immigrant and refugee women?

In some countries outside of the United States, female genital cutting (FGC) is done to girls or women for cultural or traditional reasons. FGC means piercing, cutting, removing, or sewing closed all or part of a girl’s or woman’s external genitals for no medical reason. As a type of violence against women, FGC is illegal in the United States and in many other countries.  FGC has no health benefits and can cause long-term health problems.

In the United States, estimates suggest that more than 513,000 girls and women have experienced FGC or are at risk of FGC.2

Learn more about female genital cutting in our Female genital cutting page.

Did we answer your question about violence against immigrant and refugee women?

For more information about violence against immigrant and refugee women, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:


  1. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2010). Immigration Options for Victims of Crimes.
  2. Goldberg, H., Stupp, P., Okoroh, E., Besera, G., Goodman, D., Danel, I. (2016). Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the United States: Updated Estimates of Women and Girls at Risk, 2012. Public Health Reports; 131: 1-8.