You thought your life in America was going to be different. While your husband can go out to work during the day, he’s still back at night—and he’s just as angry as he was before he left home. You’re a long way from your family, and you don’t have anywhere to go if you leave—and even if you did, you would either be sent back to your abusive husband or back to your native country. So what can you do?

Undocumented Residents Can Stay in the Country After Leaving an Abuser

Despite what you may have heard, undocumented immigrants will not automatically be sent home if they leave their abusive husbands. The U.S. has rules to protect people living in the country regardless of legal or documented status, particularly if they are being abused or violated. For example, you should not face discrimination or removal if you:

  • Go to the authorities. In most cases, police officers are not authorized to contact immigration services when a woman reports acts of domestic violence. If you go to the police, you have a right not to reveal your immigration status, as well as the right to request an attorney.
  • Petition for citizenship. If you have been abused by your spouse, you may be able to apply for citizenship on your own behalf. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows immigrants whose spouses or parents are U.S. citizens (or lawful permanent residents) to get citizenship without their spouse’s knowledge or consent.
  • Apply for citizenship for your children. If you have children, they may also be able to get legal status once your immigration petition is approved. Again, you should speak with an attorney to find out if this option is available to you.
  • Divorce your spouse. Divorce or separation from an abusive husband should not affect your immigration case. If your husband, ex-husband, boyfriend or father is abusive, you do not have to stay with the abuser to qualify for immigration benefits.

What Victims Should Do After Leaving an Abuser

Once you and your children have safely gotten away from an abusive partner, you will need to provide a personal testimony that describes the abuse you have suffered. You should include pictures of bruises, medical records of hospital admissions, police reports, and written testimony from your friends, family, or shelter workers.

If you need a safe place to stay in the Seattle area or would like to speak with an attorney, fill out this online contact form or call 425-460-0550 to let us know how to privately contact you.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington