Immigrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers Advocacy Considerations



Date of Publication
October, 2018

It is important to understand that immigration in the United States dates back longer than the current immigration discussions that we currently see on the news, or read about on social media. Often Immigrants and Refugees are compartmentalized in being labeled one in the same. Here is a quick breakdown:

a refugee is a person who has been forced to relocate to a foreign country due to political turmoil, religious persecution, an outbreak of war and or fleeing a natural disaster.
an immigrant is a person who most often chooses willingly to migrate and start life over in a foreign country.
Asylum Seeker
an asylum seeker is a person who has had to flee their country as a political refugee, in hopes for granted asylum in another country.

The impact of anti-immigrant sentiment nationally is growing. White House directives to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as the detention and separation of asylum-seeking migrants has had a chilling effect on immigrant survivors of sexual violence. This is a time when many communities are understandably concerned about their overall well being and status in our nation. Adjustments to outreach and advocacy approaches are necessary and need to focus on trust-building in communities. It is not a reasonable expectation that immigrant survivors will call or walk-in to the office or courthouses without strident efforts on the part of the sexual assault services agency.

Barriers to help-seeking and/or reporting are multi-faceted and compounding.

  • Victims may not want their offender to be deported for many reasons including dangers to the offender in their home country, fear of retaliation from their offender's family, backlash from shared community, fear that family in their home country could be targeted by offender once deported, or offender is family member or partner.
  • Sexual assault resources may not have been available in their countries of origin, so victims simply do not know they exist.
  • The actual or perceived lack of linguistically and culturally accessible sexual assault services in their area.
  • Fear of deportation or uncertainty about immigration status.
  • Lived experiences. Immigrant communities may have fear of police or government agencies that are based in their lived experiences with authorities in their country of origin, anti-immigrant rhetoric and abuse in the U.S., and word-of-mouth experiences from others in their community.

Some immigrant survivors’ experiences of sexual assault may predate their entry into the US (having been victimized during war or during border crossing, for example). The experience of immigration tends to increase vulnerability to recurring sexual assault, as immigrants are generally more isolated and may be actively targeted by aggressors who see them as socially and legally vulnerable.1

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

VAWA includes protections for immigrants and refugees who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes.

In 1994, VAWA “self-petitioning” was created to assist those victims married to U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident abusive spouses, who use their control over the victims’ immigration status as a tool of abuse (either failing to petition for them leaving victims without legal status or threatening to withdraw it).

In 2000, the U visa was created as a law enforcement tool, to encourage victims to come out of the shadows to report crimes to law enforcement and to protect victims who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of relevant crimes. To be eligible for a U visa, victims must obtain law enforcement certification demonstrating that they have assisted in a criminal investigation or prosecution. Likewise, the T visa was created to help victims of human trafficking and to gain their help in turn with investigations and prosecutions of traffickers.

In 2005, the “International Marriage Broker Regulation Act” was enacted to regulate the “mail-order bride” industry and make changes to the process by which Americans petition to sponsor visas for foreign fiancé(e)s and spouses to protect against abuse and exploitation.

Resources on Other Websites

More Information on VAWA Protections for Immigrant Communities

Culturally & Linguistically Specific Sexual Assault Service Providers in Washington State

Advocacy Tools

Notes and References

  1. Mindlin, J., Orloff, L., Pochiraju, S., Baran, A. & Echavarria, E. (2013). Dynamics of sexual assault and the implications for immigrant women. In L. Orloff (Ed.), "Empowering Survivors: Legal Rights of Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault. National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project", Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.