Immigrant and Undocumented Women

Immigrant women face many of the same barriers and hardships that non-immigrant survivors do, and men perpetrate violence against them at a similarly high rate. Immigrant women includes women who have visas, are legal residents, and/or are undocumented immigrants. Men who abuse immigrant women may use certain factors that are unique to a survivor’s citizenship status to create additional obstacles that prevent survivors from leaving. Immigrant women may feel isolated due to language barriers, or trapped in abusive relationships due to immigration laws, social isolation, and a possible dependency on their abuser because of these factors. Men who abuse immigrant women will often use control tactics that exacerbate these feelings, such as threatening to have a survivor deported if they report their abuse. Specifically, men will also threaten immigrant and undocumented women who have children with the possibility of separating them from their children. Additionally, you can learn more and find resourceshere:

The following describes some of the ways in which men abuse immigrant women, although the experiences of individual survivors will vary from case to case. These tactics are in addition to the types of abuse listed here, which apply to both immigrant and non-immigrant women. Immigrant women include female-identifying individuals and genderqueer and nonbinary people who have visas, are legal residents, and/or are undocumented immigrants.

Perpetrators often do the following:

Emotional Abuse

  • Lying about their immigration status
  • Telling their family lies about them
  • Calling them racist names
  • Belittling and embarrassing them in front of family and friends
  • Telling them that they have abandoned their culture and has become “white” or “American”
  • Preventing them from visiting sick or dying relatives
  • Lying about ability to have the immigration status of lawful permanent resident changed for their partner

Economic Abuse

  • Forcing them to work “illegally” when they do not have a work permit
  • Threatening to report them to INS if they work “under the table”
  • Not letting them get job training or schooling
  • Taking the money their family back home was depending upon them to send
  • Forcing them to sign papers in English that they do not understand — court papers, IRS forms, immigration papers
  • Harassing them at the only job they can work at legally in the U.S., so that they lose that job and are forced to work “illegally”

Sexual Abuse

  • Calling them a prostitute or a “mail order bride”
  • Accusing them of trying to attract other people when they put on make-up to go to work
  • Accusing them of sleeping with other people
  • Alleging that they have a history of sex work on legal papers
  • Telling them that “as a matter of law” in the United States that they must continue to have sex with their partner whenever their partner wants until they are divorced

Using Coercion and Threats

  • Threatening to report them to the INS and get them deported
  • Threatening that the partner will not file immigration papers to legalize the survivor’s immigration status
  • Threatening to withdraw the petition they filed to legalize their immigration status
  • Telling them that they will harm someone in their family
  • Telling them that they will have someone harm her family members
  • Threatening to harm or harass their employer or co-workers

Using Children

  • Threatening to remove their children from the United States
  • Threatening to report their children to the INS
  • Taking the money they were going to send to support their children in their home country
  • Telling them that they will have them deported and they will keep the children with the partner in the U.S.
  • Convincing them that if they seeks help from the courts or the police the U.S. legal system will give the partner custody of the children. (In many countries, the male partner are given legal control over the children and they convince them that the same thing will occur here.)

Using Citizenship or Residency Privilege

  • Failing to file papers to legalize their immigration status
  • Withdrawing or threatening to withdraw immigration papers filed for their residency
  • Controlling their ability to work
  • Using the fact of their undocumented immigration status to keep them from reporting abuse or leaving with the children
  • Telling them that the police will arrest them for being undocumented if they call the police for help because of the abuse


  • Hiding or destroying important papers (i.e. passport, children’s passports, ID cards, health care cards, etc.)
  • Destroying the only property that they brought from their home country
  • Destroying photographs of their family members
  • Threatening persons who serve as a source of support for them
  • Threatening to do or say something that will shame their family or cause them to lose face
  • Threatening to divulge family secrets


  • Isolating them from friends, or family members
  • Isolating them from people who speak her language
  • Not allowing them to learn English or not allowing them to communicate in a language they are fluent in
  • Being the only person through whom they can communicate in English
  • Reading their mail and not allowing them to use the telephone
  • Strictly timing all their trips outside of the house
  • Not allowing them to continue to meet with social workers and other support persons
  • Cutting off their subscriptions to or destroying newspapers and other support magazines
  • Not allowing them to meet with people who speak their language or who are from their community, culture, or country

Minimizing, Denying, Blaming

  • Convincing them that the partner’s violent actions are not criminal unless they occur in public
  • Telling them that the partner is allowed to physically punish them because the partner “has the power”
  • Blaming them for the breakup of the family, if they leaves their partner because of the violence
  • Telling them that they are responsible for the violence because they did not do as the partner wished