Information for Non-US Citizens

Definition of abuse under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of California

  • Intentionally or recklessly to cause or attempt to cause bodily injury
  • Sexual assault
  • To place a person in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily injury to that person or to another
  • Molesting, attacking, striking, threatening, sexually assaulting, battering
  • Destroying personal property
  • Stalking
  • Harassing; telephoning; contacting, either directly or indirectly, by mail or otherwise; coming within a specified distance of, or disturbing the peace of the survivor, or other named family or household members.

Domestic Violence is abuse perpetrated against any of the following persons

  • A spouse or former spouse
  • A cohabitant or former cohabitant
  • A person with whom the respondent is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship
  • A person with whom the respondent has had a child
  • Any other person related by family or marriage.

Should I call the police if I am being abused, or to report a past incident of abuse? Will I be turned into the CIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) if I call?

Domestic violence is against the law, no matter what your legal status here is.

The police are not supposed to turn you in to CIS if you are calling to report domestic violence. Almost all police departments follow this rule. However, you might want to contact a domestic violence organization in your area first, to find out how the police in your community handle domestic violence calls from immigrants.

Remember that you have the right to keep your immigration status private. You do not have to tell the police or a shelter whether or not you are here legally.

If you call the police, they can escort you and your children safely out of the house and often will take you to a safe place. The police may arrest your abuser if they believe a crime has been committed. If your abuser is arrested, he may be released in as soon as two hours. You can use this time to find a safe place to go.

If the police officer does not speak your language, try to find someone other than your child or abuser to interpret for you.

Always ask the police to complete a report about the incident. Be sure to get an incident report number so 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 you seek help at a domestic violence shelter, a rape crisis center or a courthouse, Citizenship and Immigration Services is not supposed to use this against you as a reason to start a removal proceeding.

Can I get a restraining order even if I am not a citizen or legal resident?

Yes. You do not need to be a citizen or legal resident to get a restraining order.

For a restraining order to be effective, you must be willing to call the police to enforce the order. Applications for restraining orders are generally available at courthouses, women’s shelters, legal services offices, and some police stations.*See How to Get a Domestic Violence Restraining Order for more information on this process.

A court generally will not ask about your immigration status when you ask for a restraining order. Under a new law, CIS is not supposed to start a removal proceeding against you if it learns that you do not have legal status because you went to court seeking an order of protection or custody of your children. You may want to ask a lawyer, a shelter worker, or someone from an immigrant advocacy group about the policy in your court.

My husband is threatening to take my children away if I leave him. What can I do?

If your abuser is threatening to take your children away or take them to his home country, you can apply for a custody order at any time to prevent him from doing this.

Basic things you can do are:

  • Contact a family lawyer or a domestic violence advocate to find out how to file for a custody order. A custody order can order the other parent not to take the children out of the country or out of the state where you live.
  • If the children are US citizens, you can send a copy of the custody order to the embassy of your partner’s home country and a copy to the US Department of State to try to prevent either country from issuing passports and/or visas for the children.
  • Give a copy of the order to the children’s schools and tell the schools not to allow the children to leave with anyone but yourself.
  • Make sure that you have recent photos and birth certificates for the children. Keep a list of addresses and phone numbers of the other parent’s friends and relatives in the home country.

What important documents should I make copies of and or carry with me?

If you are planning on leaving your abuser, OR you need to leave the house in a hurry, you should bring these documents with you. You may want to leave these documents with a friend or have them ready in a backpack that you can take with you in a hurry.

  • Driver’s license
  • Identification
  • Passports
  • Visas for yourself and your children (if you have them)
  • Birth certificates
  • Documents from any public assistance programs
  • Rental agreements
  • Checkbooks
  • Credit cards
  • Paycheck stubs
  • Marriage license
  • Copies of tax returns for yourself and your partner
  • Information about your partner (copies of or information from his visa, green card, certificate of naturalization, passport, or other identification)

You can also leave copies of these documents with a staff member at the International Center. They will be able to help you to plan further for your safety.

How can I support myself and my children if I leave my partner?

You may be able to collect child support from the father of your children, even if you are living apart, even if you were never married to him, and no matter what your immigration status is. Some married women also may be eligible to receive spousal support or alimony.

If you are a lawful permanent resident, you may use your “green card” or resident alien card to demonstrate your eligibility to work. You will also be able to work if you have an approved VAWA petition or T-Visa. Also, if you are the spouse of certain non-immigrant professionals, you may be able to get work authorization if you can demonstrate that during the marriage you or a child have been battered or subject to extreme cruelty by the person with the principal non-immigrant visa.

Refugees and other immigrants must apply for authorization to work. It is very important that you do not use false papers to work or make false claims of United States citizenship.

Are legal permanent residents eligible to receive welfare and medicaid?

In California, the following immigrants are eligible for Food Stamps:

  • Lawful permanent resident (green card holder)
  • Battered spouse (or child), whose spouse (or parent) has filed a visa petition for you, or you have filed a visa petition for yourself or an application for cancellation of removal under the Violence Against Women Act.

Individuals seeking care through Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) are required under federal law to show proof of U.S. citizenship OR legal residency. To receive medical benefits, you must present:

  • Your passport
  • Your green card

In California, legal residents may be qualified for state-funded benefits if they are barred from the federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program.

For more information on California policies, you should contact an immigration lawyer or contact a local domestic violence shelter/program.

Are my US citizen children eligible for public benefits and Medicaid?

YES. Even if you are undocumented, your US citizen children are eligible for public benefits just as other citizen children are.

Remember that the welfare office does not need to know what your status is in order to give benefits to your citizen children. If you are undocumented, you do NOT have to reveal your immigration status when applying for benefits on behalf of your children, even if you are asked.

Will I be deported if I take any of the above actions?

If you are now a US citizen, or you are a lawful permanent resident, or you possess a valid visa, you cannot be deported unless you entered the United States on fraudulent documents, violated conditions of your visa, or have committed certain crimes.

If you are undocumented or are unsure about your immigration status, you should seek the assistance of an immigration attorney to see if you can legalize your status. Until then, you should do what you need to do to make yourself safe.

Even if your husband/intimate partner reports you to the CIS, deportation may not follow, would not be immediate, and, in most cases, you would have the opportunity to explain your situation to a judge.

No matter what, you can always safely call the 24-hour, CONFIDENTIAL National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE to talk to an advocate about your situation.

Will my husband / intimate partner be deported if I take action?

If you seek assistance from a shelter or lawyer, it is extremely unlikely to result in the deportation of your partner.

If you contact the police and your partner is convicted of a crime, he may be deported, depending on his immigration status and the seriousness of the crime.

Online Resources for non-citizen survivors of domestic violence

An excellent online resource for information on California’s laws and policies. Also offers step-by-step processes for obtaining an Order of Protection and links to websites for attorney information.

Bay Area Legal Aid
Bay Area Legal Aid website
(800) 551-5554

Catholic Charities
In most states, provides legal representation and information for victims of domestic violence with immigration issues.
Catholic Charities
2625 Zanker Rd Ste 200
San Jose, CA 95134-2130
Phone: (408) 468-0100
Fax: (408) 944-0275

National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
Information and legal support on immigrant rights. Specializes in assistance for immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault who are seeking legal status in the U.S.
Phone: (617) 227-9727

International Institute of the East Bay: Basic Legal Questions and Answers for Battered Immigrant Women
Services for immigrants, including women experiencing abuse.
International Institute of the East Bay
449 15th Street, Suite 303
Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: (510) 451-2846
Fax: (510) 465-3392

Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara County
W. Robert Morgan Legal Services Center
480 North First Street (at Empire Street)
San Jose, California 95112
Office: (408) 998-5200
Voice Mail: (408) 283-1535

Family Law Information
(408) 283-1550
Mailing Address:
P. O. Box 103
San Jose, CA 95103-0103
Service Area: Santa Clara County

Adapted from WomensLaw.Org “Information for Immigrants”