National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Domestic Violence and Immigration

The following blog entry is written by Lyn Twyman. She is a survivor and creator of the Courage Network, a community for domestic violence advocates and organizations with a world-wide goal in mind to draw organizations, advocates and individuals together.

Domestic Violence and Immigration

I was 5 years old when I heard one of my parents frequent arguments end with a loud smacking sound.  I had just walked in the front door after the school bus had dropped me off in front of my house from a day at kindergarten to the loud yelling and arguing of my parents, unfortunately something I had grown accustomed to.  If you can imagine my father was well over 6 feet with a loud bellowing voice, my mother just under 5 feet.  With frustration and anger my father struck my mother, leaving a bright red hand mark on the left side of her fair, Asian face.  This was the first time I saw the expression of resentment and hate in my mother’s face for everything that led to that point.  That act of violence shattered the facade that my parents had built up to try to hide the truth from me, that their marriage was a sham and in no way functional.  There were deeply rooted problems within their relationship and after that moment my eyes were wide open to them.  Later I would realize there were great amounts of psychological and emotional abuse in my parent’s relationship that would be directed solely towards me.

My father was an American born in the south, a victim of abuse and neglect by an alcoholic father who was void of most emotion, except anger and depression spurred by the bottle.  My mother, the eldest of her siblings, grew up in third-world poverty with an extremely controlling mother.  In 1977, my mother started receiving pen pal letters from my father.  She became enamored with the idea of a man she had never met before, a man who promised to take care of her and give her a better life, more than what she could have ever imagined.  About a year later when my mother was 23, she immigrated to the United States.

The man who wrote such beautiful words on paper was not reflective of the man my mother met when she came to the U.S. and in less than a month, the fairy tale was over. The stark realities of the deception, lack of respect and obsession over my mother’s every movement was too much to endure. My mother however, was fearful to leave my father with the domestic violence taking place.  My father, a man ridden with personality disorders, would admit years later that his choice to marry my mother was due to the amount of “submissiveness” women like her had for their husbands and the ability to “teach” them and make them become what he wanted.

Unfortunately the story of my parents is not unique. It bares many similarities to the stories of many immigrants who find themselves in relationships where domestic violence is present.  One thing that remains consistent however, as with many instances of domestic violence,  is there is one person that seeks to have control over the other who is thought to be weaker.

Women and men have shared with me their personal experiences, and those of other immigrants who were involved in domestic violence relationships that they knew.  I began hearing similarities in the stories:

  • Victims had little interaction with people other than their partner or lived in complete isolation.
  • Victims were eventually embarrassed by their partner regarding their own language and culture.
  • Communication decreased over time with their families in their homeland.
  • Finances were controlled by the abusive partner.
  • The partner threatened to have them deported or have their children taken away from them if they showed signs of fighting back or escaping.

So many of these stories also began sounding familiar as I realized my mother had faced the same problems with my own father.

Help for Immigrants

Immigrants who are dealing with domestic violence face many challenges unlike those around them because of language and culture barriers.  Whether waiting for citizenship or seeking refugee status, immigrant victims of domestic violence do have rights and can get help to protect themselves from abuse.  There are organizations like American Immigration Lawyers Association, The National Immigration ProjectThe Tahirih Justice and specialty organizations like The Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center,  that help with direct services or referrals at little or no cost.   It is important that immigrant victims get trained advocates to support and assist them in the proper steps to make themselves and their children safer, whether the abuse is physical or not. Additionally, the spouses and children of U.S. citizens can self-petition to obtain lawful permanent residency under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  VAWA also allows certain battered immigrants  to seek safety and independence from the abuser by filing for immigration relief without the abuser’s assistance or knowledge .

Domestic violence is wrong, period.  A person’s nationality does not exclude them from the physical and emotional pain that is inflicted from domestic violence.  The best thing we can do as advocates is to remember the warning signs of abuse, stay informed about the issue,  spread awareness and encourage our Federal immigration system to strengthen laws and distribute violence and abuse awareness materials, making them available in multiple languages to each person that comes to their offices and websites.

I am encouraged about the amount of work that has been done with this issue compared to my mother’s time as an immigrant but there is still much work to be done in raising awareness about the problem.  If you see someone who displays signs of being a victim, offer them in confidence the resources they can go to for help.  You will be surprised how far a bit of information and slice of humanity can go to help save a life and lead someone to new found freedom, hope and truly a much better life.

By Lyn Twyman

11 replies
  1. Lyn says:

    Great story of survival and great truths. We can help prevent domestic violence by teaching others how to love and respect themselves, and to also learn what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships aren’t physically, emotionally and mentally violent. Healthy relationships are between two people that respect each other.

  2. Lenise says:

    I was in a abusive lesbian relationship for almost 5 yrs i was really scared to let go because of the love i had felt so deep for her, n the things we did together. i was afraid to fight because i loved her n you just dont show someone you love them in that way of showing them physical violence. i fought back with all my might, mentally i took charge, but the more she saw it the more, aggressive she became towards me emotionally, verbally, sometimes physically, i was beaten down emotionally, mentally, verbally and sometimes physically, but enough was enough…love is something but it isnt everything. i learned that i have to love me when in situations like that. love is respect, without the either of the two u dont have.

  3. Ariadnakubota says:

    I am going thru this right now and im really scard of what to do about it. I have been with my husband for almost 8 years and its been this way since day one. now i have to two kids to think about and what they have to go thru on a every day. can some one help me please

    • Lyn says:

      Try calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline once you are in a safe place. Their advocates will be able to direct and assist you to resources. All the best, stay strong and stay safe!

  4. Trena says:

    Hi am an immigrant here and I was living with my son dad for three years when he put me and my 5mth old son out in the dead of winter he told me if I report him he would call immigration, I did not know my rights and I had overstayed om my visa and was afraid of being deported to my home country. (I where I was already fleeing from the father of my first son after he sent me to the hospital with 32 stiches and a mild concussion, I reprted it in my country and the authorities there did nothing and then he started sending death threats to me so I had to chose between hiding my children leaving my means of living and start over here). I supported my son on my own and made a life for bothe of us, I met a man three years after who promise me that he was nothing like my son dad and he ask me to marry him. I told him that I was not a legal resident here and he of my children back home. He said he would change that situation and we started a life, in the first three month of marrige I started getting child support cheks for my son, he started telling me that I should find a job and help even though I tild him it was against the law to do so and that when I was earning I was doing it as charity work for my church where they would compensate me with room and board and a small stipen. I found out i was pregnant in that very month and told him, he completely changed and stop supporting me financially calling me trifling, bitch and that I do not deserved to treated like a person, that he would not take care of me and the baby. My son child support that I get every month he said I should pay the utility bills buy food for the house and take care of myself my unborn child and my son, since then he has not provided for us even though he lives under the same roof, yet he would eat all my son cereal without even asking him if he wants any, and anything else that is in the house to eat he would eat it without any regourds to us getting any. My friends and church family help me with the money to send in my adjustment of status however i have not gotten approved yet , he came home and said he wants a divorce and that i should leave, I cannot drive and where we live the bus does not run there so I have to ask him to take me to get food or to my Dr appointment which he refuse to pay the bills at the obgyn and I also found out that my preganancy is high risk and my baby is not growing as she should. He would leave and go away for days and if I call him he ignors my calls but if he does not have any gas he would answer and tell me to buy gas for the suv because my son needs to go to school ( he is in prek and is doing very well) He does not buy any furniture in the house no toiletries detergent anything and if he knows that I have a penny he suddenly dont have all the money for the rent, ahd he works over 3,000 dollors a month. He also said I baby my 4yo too much and I should make him help me clean while he does nothing but sleep when he is home. My son does not care much for him and he knows it because he held him by the neck to the floor one morning telling him that he plays too much I told him I will call the police if he does that again. He is not helping me in anyway to provide for this baby and am afraid he will withdraw his petition and I will be sent home to face my other child dad who did time for other stuff he was doing and I report him, and also that i might not see my other two children and end up on the street with no job to support theses two because of my status.I have so much that I would love to say but I do not know where to turn please i need advice or help.

    • cookie says:

      Trena, get to social services and apply for welfare,they will give you money for food called food stamps in acard and cash benefits as your child is a US citizen. Call 211 from a payphone to ask for help from government services so he cannot trace your call.Keep your passport ,original documents like birth certificates yours and your child’s , Social Services will not care about your immigration status. Do not tell anyone about the money, welfare case number or the name of your case worker as this info is for you only.Carry your documents,money and welfare or EBT card with you in the shower. Learned this the hard way. I put a bait of 7 dollars in one dollar amounts and next day I was missing 3 dollars. It was my roommate..Open a secret bank account and request the bank to stop mail delivery to your house. Read the Art of War by Sun Tzu to develop a mind set for protecting yourself the positive way. You are uniquely created,so celebrate that. You are a winner already for being strong. I grew up with a very overbearing,controlling dad who made you feel stupid , liked to argue and often changed his mind. Years later,A psychologist later told me my mom , family members and i were normal. My dad wasn’t I was carrying that burden for more than 30 years before I knew the truth.

  5. Nancy Werking Poling says:

    Lyn, thanks for this informative article. I want to emphasize one of your points: “The partner threatens to have them deported…” I have not had any personal experience like you, but I have read of how the abuser uses the victim’s unfamiliarity with language and laws to further exercise control over her. Though you speak to the issue of translating written materials about resources into many languages, helping the immigrant victim still sounds challenging. The fact that the abuser isolates her and keeps her in the house limits her contact with anyone who might be able to reach out to her. It’s such a complex issue, but we dare not give up trying to make a difference.

    Nancy Werking Poling

    • Lyn says:

      Thanks, Nancy for your comments. The abuse of immigrants is challenging work for the very reasons mentioned in the article. Therefore, prevention through education methods are critical when dealing with this issue. One aspect mentioned in the article is the abuse related materials for immigrants, being made available once they file their paperwork, then again once reaching the U.S. This will be a major step helping to raise their awareness, understanding the warning signs and where to go to for help.

  6. Beverly says:

    I have a website that tells of my story of being a battered wife and and my children abused by a man that I thought I would be with the rest of my life to love and to cherish, but in all aspects that was not the case, I’m a survivor and my children who are now all grown are survivors of Domestic Violence in the home, and I know that for this purpose I am here to help women of Domestic Violence, It’s wrong and Love should not hurt. I know as women and mothers that we are better than that
    Thank you, and God Bless!

    • Lyn says:

      Thank you, Beverly for sharing your story. You are right, love should not hurt and we all must teach our children and share with others what it means to be in healthy relationships. Stay encouraged and stay inspired.

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