Published: June, 2022| BWJP

When Immigration Becomes a Tool in Intimate Partner Violence

By Victoria Taylor

Many people are unaware that immigration abuse can be a tool of gender-based violence. 

Imagine being 21, prohibited from legally working, pregnant, and about to be deported. What other choice did I have but to marry him?

I emigrated to the United States from the United Kingdom (a predominately white, wealthy country that the United States favors immigration from) at the age of 15. My family had no idea of the lengthy, exorbitant, unforgiving process we were going to go through over the next 23 years. To avoid deportation my siblings and I felt we needed to marry whomever we were dating at the age of 21.   

Immigration Abuse is a term used in gender-based violence to describe the use of the immigration system as a tool of power and control over an intimate partner. An immigrant victim’s immigration status is most often tied directly to their abusive partner’s status. Typical tactics of immigration abuse can be anything from withholding information regarding the immigration status of a victim, threatening to cause deportation, threatening to deny access to seeing children, destroying or tampering with immigration documentation, and restricting access to finances to pay for costly immigration fees.

There are many avenues available for survivors to attain some form of immigration relief. They include the battered spouse waiver, self-petitioning under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), U-Visas, and T-Visas. The VAWA self-petition is one tool available to immigrant crime victims to decouple their immigration status from their abuser. Immigrants who are cooperating with the prosecution of the crime they experienced may apply for a U-Visa. The U-Visa has a cap of only 10,000 visas granted per year. This cap is quickly satisfied yearly and there is a lengthy waiting list. 

During the U-Visa waiting period, victims often have little choice other than to stay with their abuser while they go through  the immigration process. Lack of legal immigration status can limit access to public benefits, prohibit people from legally working (illegal work affects visa potential), disallow scholarship opportunities, and prohibit the ability to access a driver's license. The restriction of a person's independence through this process directly contributes to increased power and control from abusers.

In the United States, it takes an average of 10-20 years just to receive a Green Card. During that time there are heavy restrictions on what an immigrant is allowed to participate in as a non-citizen of this country. It was illegal for me to work, I was ineligible for any school scholarships, and I was unable to qualify for any student loans. I am white and English-speaking. Consider immigrants who do not speak the language or understand the legal system, who are undocumented, who are not a part of dominant culture and who are fleeing political or gang violence. Immigrant victims can be so restrained by the immigration system the prospect of leaving a violent relationship can be understandably unattainable. 

Awareness of the barriers faced by immigrant survivors is crucial to supporting immigration reform that will be humane and effective. ASISTA advocates for justice and dignity for immigrant survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). Kirsten Rambo, PhD. the Executive Director of ASISTA reminds us that “there are survivors in every group of immigrants, so when we take in news about immigration, we should apply a lens of focus on how this is impacting survivors of IPV to better understand the isolation and disempowerment they may be going through.” 

For ways to support policy and political efforts check out: 

https://www.immigrantsurvivors.org/take-action 

BWJP stands with immigrant survivors and all survivors of gender-based violence.

#CelebrateImmigrants #immigrationabuse #domesticviolence