The Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) Protects Immigrants. How a Protection from Abuse Order Can Help

The Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) Protects Immigrants. How a Protection from Abuse Order Can Help

By Janet Howard

When you are trapped in an abusive relationship or trying to escape a potentially dangerous intimate partner, it can seem like you are all alone. Those suffering from this kind of abuse often feel like the situation is of their own making, and they may suffer from guilt as well as violence. While domestic violence is a horrible experience for anyone, it is excruciating and damaging for immigrants.

Imagine coming to America for a chance at a better life, only to find yourself in an abusive relationship, made worse when there are children involved, and you depend on your abuser (U.S. citizen or Green Cardholder) for your legal status. If this sounds like the situation you are in, rest assured that you are far from alone. No matter how hopeless and lonely you feel, there is help available, and that help can take the form of a PFA.

A protection from abuse, or PFA, the order can be your first line of defense, a legal shield between you and the individual who has been threatening or abusing you. And if you still feel alone, consider this sad fact — every year, there are more than 10 million reports of domestic violence and other forms of intimate partner abuse.

For those stuck in the hell of domestic violence and partner abuse, a PFA can literally be a lifesaver, but what is a protection from abuse order, how does it work, and how can you get one? Here are some key things you need to know about the PFA process and what you can expect when you file.

Depending on who you talk to and where you live, the protection from abuse (PFA) order may be referred to by many different names. You may hear it referred to as a restraining order, a protective order, or simply a PFA, but no matter what it is called, its purpose remains the same. Simply put, a protection from abuse order (PFA) is put in place to protect an individual from further abuse or harassment. The PFA can be sparked by several different situations, including repeated incidents of spousal abuse, intimate partner abuse, child abuse, stalking, or harassment.

Once the protection from abuse (PFA) has been put in place, the abusive partner, parent or other individual is prohibited from interacting with the person who filed the order. Any violation of the PFA will subject that individual to immediate arrest, providing addiction protection and peace of mind for the victim.

If you are tired of the abuse and ready to get the help you need, it is a good idea to contact an attorney before you file. You can file a PFA action on your own but having the expert help and guidance of an experienced attorney will make the process easier while providing you with an additional level of support. Just as importantly, filing your PFA through an attorney will help you avoid mistakes — errors that could cause your PFA to be denied and put you in further danger. When you are already in an abusive relationship or dealing with an unpredictable intimate partner, you cannot afford to leave anything to chance. So do yourself and your safety, a favor by contacting an experienced attorney right away.

Immigrants and Domestic Violence
Immigrants are particularly vulnerable because many may not speak English, are often separated from family and friends, and may not understand the laws of the United States. For these reasons, immigrants are often afraid to report acts of domestic violence to the police or to seek other forms of assistance. Such fear causes many immigrants to remain in abusive relationships. Immigrants in the U.S. have the right to live a life free of abuse. Due to the victim’s immigration status, abusive partners have additional ways to exert power and control over their victims. If you are an immigrant or refugee in an abusive relationship, you may face unique issues that make it hard to reach out for help. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a landmark piece of legislation seeking to improve criminal legal, and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the United States. This federal law provides numerous forms of protection for noncitizen women—and men—who are the victims of domestic violence or other qualifying crimes. There are three forms of protection: “U” visas for victims of crime, “T” visas for victims of severe forms of trafficking, and “self-petitions” under the VAWA.

Any victim of domestic violence — regardless of immigration or citizenship status — can seek help. An immigrant victim of domestic violence may also be eligible for immigration-related protections. If you are experiencing domestic violence in your home, you are not alone. A specialized immigration attorney should always be your first point of contact regarding immigration questions and concerns. You can also listen to Ask the Lawyer Radio Program on WVIP 93.5FM on Thursdays, 10pm-11pm, and Sundays, 11pm to 12am. The program provides excellent information and an opportunity for a confidential, legal consultation. The number to call is 855-768- 8845. You can also visit

Domestic violence is against the law regardless of one’s immigration status. Be a loving family member, good friend, and caring neighbor: please share this information.

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