What is "domestic violence"? What can I do? Should I leave my home if I am in danger? Can I get protection even if I am not a U.S. citizen? How can I get lawful permanent residency without my husband's help? Read this information for answers to these questions and much more.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence can be physical battering, but may also be threats, isolation, emotional mistreatment, economic control, or forced sex. Domestic violence occurs between people who know each other: husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, same sex partners, adult relatives, and parents and their children.
If you are experiencing domestic violence in your home, you are not alone. Although domestic violence is usually hidden, it is very common and probably affects many people that you know.
Domestic violence tends to get worse with time. It does no go away on its own. It is important to remember that you are not responsible for the violence, but there are things you can do to break this cycle of violence.
What can I do?
There are a variety of services available to assist you to stop the violence in your home: shelters, hospitals, police, legal aid and other community services.
Should I leave my home if I am in danger?
If you are in danger, try to leave the situation. Go to a friend's house or a battered women's shelter. Shelters are usually free and will often have information about other services available in your community. If you stay with a friend or family member, keep your location secret.
If you leave your home, make every effort to take your children with you. It is also helpful if you can bring documents, such as a driver's license, identification, passports, visas and social security cards for you and your children, birth certificates, any public assistance documents, leases, checkbooks, paycheck stubs, marriage license, medical and police reports, copies of your spouse or partner's green card or social security card, photographs of your injuries and any existing court orders. If you think you may need to leave in the future, pack important items in a bag so you can find them quickly when you leave or take them to a friend's home.
If you can't leave the situation, avoid rooms with only one exit. Avoid the kitchen, bathroom or garage.
Should I call the police?
YES. Domestic violence is against the law. The police can escort you and your children out of the house if you want to leave and often can transport you to a safe place. Officers may arrest your husband/intimate partner if they believe a crime has been committed. If the police officer does not speak your language, find someone to interpret for you.
Always ask the police to complete a report about the incident and get an incident report number so that you can get a copy of the report. Also ask for and write down the name and badge number of the officer making the report.
If your spouse/partner is taken into custody, he may be released as soon as two hours later. This will give you time to find a safe place to go. The police generally will not turn a woman reporting domestic violence into the immigration authorities. If you do come into contact with Immigration, remember that you have the right to remain silent and to talk to an attorney before answering any questions or signing any papers.
I have heard of protection orders. What do they do?
A protection order can prohibit your spouse/partner from contacting, attacking, sexually assaulting or telephoning you, your children, and other family members. Along with this protection order, in most states you can also ask for custody of your children, exclusion of the batterer from your home, and that the batterer not interfere with your immigration status. You can ask for important documents or other property to be given to you. You do not need to be a citizen or a legal resident to get a protection order. For a protection order to be effective, you must be willing to call the police to enforce it.
How will I support myself and my children if I leave home?
Battered women's shelters will often provide free housing and food for you and your children. They may also be able to help you find a job.
In most states, your spouse or the parent of your children may be ordered to pay you money each month to support your children if s/he is employed.
You may also be eligible for public assistance, which could help you support yourself and your children.
If I am a resident, will a divorce or separation affect my immigration status?
If you are a legal permanent resident, your legal status should not be affected. However, you should keep documents and other objects, like photos, to show that your marriage was real and not entered into for immigration purposes. If you have conditional residence and have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty, you will still be able to keep lawful immigration status. If your spouse will not cooperate in removing your conditional status, you can ask for a waiver. Contact an immigration attorney for more information about this waiver.
I do not have legal status. Can I leave or divorce my spouse or partner?
YES. Divorcing or separating should not affect your immigration case. You do not have to stay with your abuser to be eligible for immigration benefits as a victim of domestic violence.
What options do I have to get immigration status in the U.S.?
If you are or were married, and have been abused by your (ex-)spouse, you may qualify to apply for a self-petition and obtain residence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Self-petitions are available to immigrants whose abusive spouse or parents are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. It allows abused immigrants to obtain legal status without the cooperation of their abusive (ex-)spouse or parent. If you are not married or if you are in deportation proceedings, you may still be eligible to obtain lawful immigration status under VAWA based on the abuse you or your children have suffered. If you are not married or if your abuser is not a citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., you may be eligible for a U Visa. This visa requires that you cooperate with the authorities in the investigation or prosecution of your abuser. Talk to an immigration attorney about these options. Do not apply for immigration benefits without first consulting an immigration attorney.
Under VAWA, you don't need to depend on your abuser to apply for legal status. Your spouse plays no role in the process and does not have to know you are applying for status. In many cases, children can also get legal status once their parent's petition is approved. Because the law is complicated, you should not go to Immigration without first consulting a shelter worker or immigration attorney for assistance.
What if I am divorced from my abuser?
If you are divorced from your abuser, you can still file a self-petition as long as you file within two years of your divorce. If you are considering a divorce or getting married again, please consult and immigration attorney before making that decision
What if Immigration deports my spouse or partner?
If your spouse loses his/her legal permanent residence status, you can still file a self-petition within two years of the deportation. Please consult an immigration attorney as soon as possible if your spouse is in deportation proceedings.
What if I don't know my spouse or partner's status?
If you do not know your spouse/partner's status, contact an immigration attorney who may be able to help you find out.
My spouse/partner only hurts me when we are alone. Will Immigration believe me?
Your personal testimony, or "declaration," is the most powerful way to prove your case. The Immigration authorities or the immigration courts can also look at other things like copies of your protection order, medical records, police reports, photographs of your injuries, testimony of friends, family or shelter workers. If you testify in immigration court, you can request that the court provide an interpreter for you. There is no particular document that you must have in order to prove your case.
What if I cannot afford a lawyer?
It is always best to consult with an immigration lawyer before speaking with Immigration. Your conversation with the attorney will be confidential and he or she cannot report you to Immigration.
This information was adapted by Legal Services Alabama from the Futures Without Violence brochure: "You Have the Right to be Free from Violence in Your Home: Questions and Answers for Immigrant and Refugee Women."
AlabamaLegalHelp.org offers legal information, not legal advice. We try hard to make sure this website accurately explains your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For this sort of legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call Toll-Free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online here.