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Illegal Immigrants in Abusive Relationships


Intimate partner violence against immigrant women has been rising steadily and has now reached unimaginable proportions, however, it is only recently that studies exposed the grave situation of the matter. Studies have further revealed that although immigrant women suffer abuse from their spouses, many of them prefer to continue staying in such relationships, and as a result, continue to face an unending spate of violence. A review of the literature shows that the main reason these women still stay in abusive relationships stems from the women’s legal status. These women’s immigration status is often tied to their abusive partners and this restrains them from seeking legal assistance. The abuser is often a legitimate US citizen who refuses to apply for legal status for their partners to keep them secluded.

Literature Review

Figures about the number of illegal immigrants in abusive relationships are damning. A report by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that nearly 20 percent of all females who do not have legal status are abused by their partners. A 2002 joint Boston and Harvard University study shows that this figure could rise to 40 percent (Raj and Silverman 2002). Analysts say that undocumented immigrant women are more apt to stay in abusive relationships longer than their counterparts with legal status due to economic factors. Many illegal immigrants do not have a stable source of income and depend on their partners for their upkeep. A study by Raj and Silverman (2002) reports that these women face violence in different forms, the most common of which are physical, psychological, sexual, financial, and emotional.

The report further states that the difficulty in accessing legal assistance increases their vulnerability for abuse. State organs, mainly the criminal and immigration, have aided this situation by failing to act appropriately against this form of violence (Erez & Globokar, 2009). A study conducted by Bui and Morash (1999) focusing on the Vietnamese community in the US reports that abuse against women also stems from alterations in the socio-economic structure and cultural practices. Men’s belief in their dominant position as head of the family comes under sharp opposition due to changes in norms and this spurs violence. Immigrant women may also come from traditions that allow domestic violence, thereby deterring them from seeking assistance when abused by their partners (Orloff et al., 1995). Analysts say that domestic violence against undocumented is likely to increase as the number of illegal immigrants swells (Vidales, 2010). But on a positive note, several organizations have recognized the current situation and have been fighting against the abuse of women without legal status, further, the Violence Against Women Act, enacted in 1994, has also been used to fight this form of violence without placing the women at risk of being deported.

Research Design

The study will use a comparative study methodology. The main method of data collection will be the use of semi-structured interviews of abused women in shelters and from professional bodies that keep statistics of violence on women and legal advocates. The study will use questionnaires that detail demographics and ease of access to assistance by battered women. This research methodology will allow the researcher to explore several variables relating to the research question. Furthermore, the researcher will be able to design questionnaires according to the variables to be investigated.


Bui, H. N., and Morash, M. (1999). Domestic Violence in the Vietnamese Immigrant Community: An Exploratory Study. Violence Against Women vol. 5 no. 7: 769-795.

Erez, E., and Globokar, J. (2009). Compounding vulnerabilities: the impact of immigration status and circumstances on battered immigrant women. Sociology of Crime Law and Deviance, Vol.5, Iss: 13, pp.129 – 145.

Orloff, J. et al. (1995). With No Place to Turn: Improving Advocacy for Battered Immigrant Women. Family Law Quarterly. 29(2):313.

Raj, A., & Silverman, J. (2002). Violence against immigrant women: The roles of culture, context, and legal immigrant status on intimate partner violence. Violence against women, 8(3), 367-398.

Vidales, G. F. (2010). Arrested Justice: The Multifaceted Plight of Immigrant Latinas who Faced Domestic Violence. Journal of Family Violence Volume, 25, Number 6, 533-544.

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StudyKraken. 2022. "Illegal Immigrants in Abusive Relationships." August 26, 2022.


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