The double threat of immigration and domestic violence


Rosa* is an undocumented immigrant woman who is in an abusive marriage; her husband is a U.S. citizen who refuses to sponsor her for citizenship. 

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides pathways for immigrant victims of domestic violence - like Rosa - to stabilize their immigration statuses independent of their abusers, such as the VAWA self-petition and the U visa. VAWA also protects them from getting referred to authorities for deportation even if their case gets denied (unless they have been convicted of serious crimes).

Recent presidential executive orders on immigration, however, have resulted in reluctance among undocumented DV survivors to file for visas for fear of drawing the attention of immigration enforcement agents. 

"With hyped fear in the media and in the community, clients are more fearful," says Stephanie Costa, supervising attorney of the DV Initiative at HIAS Pennsylvania. "They're calling us and asking if they should have applied, if they will be deported if their case is denied, if it's safe now that the government has their name."

Fortunately for WIT clients, Philadelphia is a sanctuary city - local authorities will limit their cooperation with the national government effort to enforce immigration law. Unless an immigrant is convicted of a first- or second-degree violent felony and there is a judicial warrant, immigration officials will not be contacted and a Philadelphia jail will not hold them for immigration. Despite pressure from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Mayor Jim Kenney has supported and reaffirmed Philadelphia's sanctuary city status. 

 "Police in Philly have specific policies not to enquire about a victim's immigration status," Stephanie says. "As a sanctuary city, in the past, Philly was a relatively friendly place and there was a decent relationship between immigrant populations and law enforcement. Now we're seeing a shift away from that. In Philly and outside, clients are more scared or reluctant to call law enforcement or subsequently show up to any court hearings. In the news, we've heard about ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) showing up to family courts to pick up victims.

In my 5 years of practice and in my predecessor's 10 years of practice, we have never seen a victim get picked up in family court in Philadelphia. But it has been confirmed in multiple parts of the country."

WIT staff work closely with Stephanie and her colleagues at HIAS PA and at Nationalities Service Center (NSC), immigrant-service organizations that provide free legal immigration representation and case management services for immigrant DV survivors. HIAS PA and NSC will refer clients to WIT for empowerment counseling and peer support groups, and WIT counselors will refer clients to HIAS PA and NSC for support with VAWA self-petitions, U-visas, and all other immigration matters.

Immigrants in the U.S. have the right to live free of abuse. 

Domestic violence is against the law regardless of your immigration status. 

Call WIT's LifeLine (215.751.1111) or the Philadelphia DV Hotline (1.866.723.3014) for resources or support.