Immigrant women in the U.S. are especially vulnerable to abuse, due to a lack of English skills, unfamiliarity with U.S. law and systems, cultural isolation, distance from friends and family, financial dependence, and fear of deportation.
In fact, immigrant women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence than non-immigrant women.
This is a vulnerability that abusive partners frequently exploit. An abusive partner may exert control by threatening deportation or by threatening to withdraw their petition to legalize the survivor's immigration status. An abusive partner may not allow a survivor to learn English, or threaten to take the children.
Many immigrant DV survivors do not realize that, regardless of immigration status, they too have rights in the U.S. As a result, immigrant survivors who experience domestic violence are less likely to reach out to the authorities to report their abuse.
At WIT, we support immigrant DV survivors in staying safe, reaching their goals, and living lives free from violence and abuse. We make sure that they understand their rights, and we direct them to legal resources - including walking nervous clients over to local immigrant-service organizations such as Nationalities Service Center (NSC) or HIAS PA and sitting with them through intake.
In the last few years, WIT staff have assisted over a dozen immigrant women in applying for special visas under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Our counselors write and submit immigration letters that document their client's abuse in extensive detail, and emotionally support clients as they reflect on and tell their story for their visa application.
The process of applying for a visa is intimidating, and clients often encounter an unsympathetic system - but our WIT counselors are trained to support them at each step.
"Getting a green card is getting a key to freedom," a WIT counselor says. "Working legally, going back to school, moving forward - all that begins with a green card. My client of 2 years is getting divorced and going back to school - thanks to her green card."