Safety Planning: Systems-based safety and security from the aggressor
The US legal system is complex and difficult to navigate even for many who have lived under it for most or all of their lives. For immigrants, it is also likely different from that of their country of origin. Furthermore, many immigrant survivors often operate from assumptions that they are ineligible for most types of support in the U.S. Therefore, it is essential for advocates to ensure that immigrant survivors understand their legal rights.
All persons, including immigrants, are eligible for not only police protection and criminal prosecution of the aggressor, but also to shelter, orders of protection, custody, child support, hospitals, and emergency medical care. (See “Services ‘to protect life and safety’” for more information.)
Immigrants are also protected under anti-discrimination laws; under these laws, the rights of survivors include:
Community services and supports provided by nonprofit organizations that receive federal financial funds. These include food banks, Red Cross emergency funds, and primary health care services at Federally Qualified Health Centers. This is because nonprofit organizations in the US are not required to ask about the immigration status of people they serve; moreover, doing so can amount to discrimination on the basis of national origin, which is prohibited under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
Meaningful language access to programs and services that receive federal funds. Survivors should be able to trust interpreters and be able to communicate freely regarding their experiences, needs, and plans; therefore, it is important to ensure interpreters are not a friends, family members, or community members who pose a conflict of interest (i.e., know the survivor or the aggressor).
Orders of protection
The purpose of the civil order of protection is to prevent criminal acts of abuse. If orders of protection were not available to immigrants, aggressors would be given license to abuse immigrants and not be held accountable for criminal activity. Consequently, any person, including all immigrants, can obtain an order of protection. Denial of an order on the basis of immigration status violates Equal Protection and Due Process of federal law governing public health and welfare. Therefore, no justice system official, including police, prosecutors, court staff, or judges, should ask survivors about their immigration status or if they have a Social Security number when they call for help or seek an order of protection. This does not, however, mean they cannot. For example,the Supreme Court has established local police may inquire into a crime victim’s immigration status without first establishing reasonable suspicion. There is no exception for survivors. Police are not, however, required to inquire into or report the immigration status of crime victims.
Civil orders of protection can have a preventive effect and so may be especially useful to an immigrant survivor, if both the survivor and the aggressor understand:
- The issuance of an order of protection has no immigration consequences for either party, but the violation of an order by a non-citizen aggressor is a deportable offense.
- Orders of protection do not require criminal justice system intervention; the method of enforcement is under the control of the survivor.
Civil orders of protection can further enhance survivor safety in the following ways:
- Orders of protection can support clear custody arrangements and economic support from the aggressor.
- Orders of protection can support a survivor’s efforts to attain immigration relief, because the orders provide legal documentation of the abuse.
Orders of protection do not in any way guarantee an end to the abuse. They do not guarantee a reduction in lethality or any other outcome, and it is important for advocates to spend the time necessary to help immigrant survivors understand the scope of the orders.
However, civil orders of protection can be finely crafted to address and counter tactics of abuse specific to a survivor’s experience, including coercion and manipulation tied to immigration status. In many instances, advocates can support survivors to craft the details of their order of protection such that survivors’ own definitions and desires for safety are honored and respected.
In order for an immigrant survivor to be empowered to make their best and most informed choices, questions as to whether or not to file for an order of protection, and/or whether or not to enforce it, should be examined carefully and from different angles. For example, deportation of the aggressor might increase safety and security for some survivors. For other survivors, deportation of the aggressor might create or increase dangers related to economic survival, the survivors’ own immigration status, or their own and/or their family’s safety in the US and abroad. It could also jeopardize survivors’ relationships with their families and communities.
This information and a more detailed discussion and resources on using orders of protection as a safety planning tool for immigrant survivors, is available in “Orders of protection for the immigrant survivor.”
Tools & Resources
How to protect yourself and your children from domestic violence: Safety planning for immigrant and refugee women(English and Spanish in the same document), by Legal Momentum.
Chapter 2, “Interviewing and safety planning for immigrant victims of domestic violence” of the manual Breaking Barriers: A Complete Guide to Legal Rights and Resources for Battered Immigrants.
NOTE: This section provides an overview only of systems-based safety and security -options for survivors. There are many communities (specifically, networks of friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and other community members - but not police - in relation to both the survivor and the aggressor) working to develop community-based violence interventions. See, for example, the Creative Interventions Toolkit: A practical guide to stop interpersonal violence, (created by a collaborative effort between the Asian Women’s Shelter, La Clínica de la Raza, Narika, and Shimtuh, who work almost exclusively with immigrant communities):
Orloff, L., Olavarria, C., Martinez, L., Rose, J. & Noche, J. (2013). Battered immigrants and civil protection orders. In K. Sullivan & L. Orloff (Eds.) Breaking Barriers: A Complete Guide to Legal Rights and Resources for Battered Immigrants. National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.
 USC 42, Sec. 1981(a).
Orloff, L., Olavarria, C., Martinez, L., Rose, J. & Noche, J. (2013). Battered immigrants and civil protection orders. In Breaking Barriers: A Complete Guide to Legal Rights and Resources for Battered Immigrants.
 See, for example, Survivors of violence and fear of deportation: A story from an advocate [blog post]. National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities (14 October 2015).
 See pages 12-15.