Immigrant Concerns

Massachusetts Department of Public Health Refugee and Immigrant Safety and Empowerment program funds 19 community-based services for women victims of violence from varied cultures. Their web site is on the list at:

A short YouTube video, Domestic Violence Among Refugee and Immigrant Women, illustrates some of the issues.

  • Survivors who are immigrants often have additional concerns. Language may be a major barrier to accessing help. It may be more difficult to find appropriate services.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services Refugee and Immigration Safety and Empowerment program has a list of culturally-responsive resources for survivors on their website.
  • If a survivor is undocumented, meaning she or he is not legally in this country, it is critical that the risk of deportation be considered. Some abusive partners will retaliate against their victims who are undocumented by reporting them to immigration. This is a common threat used by the abusive partner that is extremely powerful. A survivor may also be reluctant to take legal action against an undocumented partner, for fear that he or she may be deported.
  • Under the Violence Against Women Act, some undocumented immigrants are eligible to apply for legal status independent of their abusive partner or for other sorts of relief. This is a very complicated and constantly changing system. It is important that an undocumented survivor seek consultation with an attorney that specializes in immigration and domestic violence. Some legal service offices are able to provide such expertise free of charge to those survivors who qualify (Greater Boston Legal Services, Inc. Phone: 617-371-1270 X1667)
  • Regardless of immigration status, an immigrant survivor of domestic violence is eligible for police intervention and to apply for a RO in Massachusetts. It is very rare that the legal system will report a survivor's immigration status to Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). However, if the abusive partner is also undocumented, he or she may be reported to INS as a consequence of criminal charges being filed against him or her. Sometimes this will jeopardize the survivor's safety and well-being. Again, it is recommended that you consult with your local DV program and/or legal counsel before encouraging the survivor to take any steps unless there is an imminent risk of harm.
  • An immigrant survivor is also eligible in Massachusetts for domestic violence programs, including the 24-hour emergency hotlines, shelter, and counseling services, regardless of their legal status. However, with recent changes in legislation, undocumented immigrants are often ineligible for the support services necessary to remain separated from their abusive partner, such as welfare and Section 8.
  • Some agencies may be required to ask clients about their immigration status and report undocumented people to INS. You should caution the survivor never to answer questions about their immigration status, unless they are sure of the purpose for the question. You should consider calling agencies on behalf of the survivor and researching whether immigration status is relevant to accessing help before referring her or him to the agency.