From Surviving to Thriving: Expanding Protections for Migrant Women

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Immigrant women make up approximately 14 percent of all women in the United States, and women and girls comprise more than half of the immigrant population in the country. Women, girls, and gender-expansive migrants experience higher rates of intimate partner violence and sexual violence than men, and gender-based violence experienced in origin countries can also drive migration. Immigrant women whose immigration status is dependent on their partners and women who are undocumented are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, and exploitation in the workforce.

To address this, federal law provides several forms of protection for migrant women, including U visas for survivors of crime, T visas for survivors of trafficking, and “self-petitions” under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for women survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA, enacted in 1994, also provides federal resources and technical support to law enforcement and service providers, including attorneys.

To deepen and expand support for survivors, VAWA’s most recent authorization provided more than $500 million in increased resources for survivors of violence, and, importantly, restored the ability of Indigenous courts to hold non-Indigenous individuals accountable for sexual assault. Last November, the Senate went a step further and voted to amend VAWA so that Indigenous Hawaiian survivors of gender-based violence also have access to programs and resources under the act, leaving them better equipped to keep themselves and their communities safe.

While these updates to VAWA are critical, it is also essential that Congress raise the low annual cap of 10,000 U visas, which is burdened by backlogs and falls far short of meeting the needs of immigrant survivors of violence. We must also challenge the way VAWA prioritizes the allocation of resources, as most of those funds are directed to police and prosecutors while a relatively small portion goes to services for survivors. As of the 2022 reauthorization, police are funded 30 times more than community-based organizations.

Rather than inadvertently funding carceral strategies, funders can support survivors of violence in a way that is aligned with both a gender justice and immigrant justice approach. To address the needs of immigrant survivors – who may have a fear of law enforcement or an added layer of vulnerability due to their immigration status – funders can invest in housing, employment training, and community education programs that inform them of their rights.

Philanthropy can also fund power-building strategies that help immigrant and refugee women cultivate their leadership and access economic opportunities that will set them on the path to financial independence. And funders can leverage their influence to urge Congress to raise or eliminate the U visa cap so survivors can find financial and emotional security for themselves and their families.

GCIR continues to deepen our commitment to immigrant and refugee women, and we encourage you to view resources from our recent webinar, Building Immigrant Women’s Economic Power, which explored entrepreneurial strategies and labor union efforts to improve economic opportunity for migrant women. GCIR stands in solidarity with those working to ensure that all immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, and other gender-based abuses – including Indigenous women – have access to the life-saving protections and services they need to move forward and thrive.


Photo by Carlos Barquero Perez on iStock, is licensed under Standard License

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