Earlier this week, we began a discussion of the unique problems facing victims of domestic violence who are also undocumented immigrants to the United States. In addition to a fear of deportation, losing their children and financial difficulties, these women must also figure out a way to deal with language barriers and a complicated legal system. According to legal advocate Leah Heathcoat, services aimed at this sector of the population are increasingly few and far between. "You look at, on a large scale, the lack of culturally appropriate services, the lack of translation for these women," she said. "There's not even enough as it stands now."

The lack of legal assistance for undocumented victims of domestic violence is especially problematic, given that there are legal remedies put in place which victims may not be aware or able to take advantage of. One such remedy is the Violence Against Women Act, which was enacted in 1994 to offer greater protections to women who are the subject of stalking, sex crimes and domestic violence. The law also gives undocumented victims legal options for remaining in the United States after they leave their abuser.

Under the Violence Against Women Act, undocumented victims of domestic violence who are married to U.S. citizens or green card holders can become their own sponsorships for citizenship, eliminating much of the control and power of their abuser. While their applications for citizenship are being processed, undocumented victims can remain in the U.S., hold jobs, and fight for custody of their children. There are two criteria for qualification under the Act: victims must be married to their abusers, and must help police investigate the claims of domestic violence.

A similar option, known as the U-visa, allows those who do not apply under the Violence Against Women Act to seek citizenship. The program targets women who are not married to abusers, or whose abusers are not citizens or green card holders.

Source: ABC, "Undocumented domestic abuse victims face hurdles", Rebekah Zemansky, 3 January 2011