Home > Domestic violence, Recent Post > The International Violence Against Women Act of 2010 (I-VAWA) and Undocumented Immigrants in the United States – Nia Parson

The International Violence Against Women Act of 2010 (I-VAWA) and Undocumented Immigrants in the United States – Nia Parson

Nia Parson

On February 4, 2010, the US House of Representatives and Senate introduced the International Violence Against Women Act of 2010 (I-VAWA 2010; S. 2982 and H.R. 4594).  Here, I raise the question of what the potential implications of the I-VAWA are for women in positions like Silvia (a pseudonym), whom I interviewed in my research on immigrant women’s experiences of domestic violence and help-seeking in the US.  Silvia, who had migrated from Mexico to the US in the mid-1990s with a coyote in order to provide a better life for her family, told me:

I think that the simple fact of being in a new country is something very difficult…When I came here I started to work. Sometimes we didn’t have anything to eat. We didn’t have any clothes to wear. When I arrived here, I didn’t speak the language. I missed Mexico. And then I met this person who is the father of my children, and we started to go out. From the beginning there was abuse…I was trapped. I didn’t know what to do. I said ‘I love him. I love him.’ And everyone told me that he wasn’t a good person, that maybe he used drugs. Six years of abuse, of beatings passed by.

The beatings were both physical and psychological. As an example of his brutality, Silvia told me that once her husband beat her in the legs with a cable.  In her desperation, she said, “I would leave and then come back…I left and came back like 5 or 6 times.”  Silvia lacks migration papers and is undocumented in the US.  She explained one way in which this status was related to her situation of domestic violence:

I was thinking that I would arrange the papers with him, because he was a citizen, but in the end he didn’t want to help me because of the problems. And at the beginning he told me that he was going to help me. But later, no, he didn’t want to. And I didn’t want to keep insisting either.

These kinds of cases raise many important questions, and the US Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has addressed some issues of undocumented women who suffer domestic violence; however, many women, including Silvia, do not fall under the protections of the VAWA, because she is undocumented and not married to a US citizen or resident.

The stated goal of the I-VAWA 2010 is to “Prevent and respond to violence against women and girls internationally”.  The I-VAWA would establish an Office of Global Women’s Issues under the Secretary of State and provide funding to local organizations working on these issues around the globe. Throughout the I-VAWA, there is a stated focus on global women’s health issues.    This proposed focus of the US government on a form of global governance via the I-VAWA has potential implications for women who live in the US as undocumented immigrants and suffer domestic violence. Perhaps the provisions for women’s safety and freedom from violence internationally will translate to the same for undocumented immigrant women within the borders of the US.

Nia Parson, PhD is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University.  She is interested broadly in the relationships of gender, violence, and health. She was a National Institute for Mental Health Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Health at Rutgers University where she researched domestic violence among Spanish-speaking immigrants.  She has published in Medical Anthropology Quarterly and has an article forthcoming in Violence Against Women.  She is currently writing a book based on research on women’s experiences of domestic violence in post-dictatorship Chile entitled Post-traumatic States: Gender Violence and Subjectivity in Chile.  With the support of a Hogg Foundation for Mental Health grant she is beginning a project on mental health care for Mexican immigrant women who have suffered domestic violence in Dallas, TX.


Cite this:

Parson, Nia. 2010. The International Violence Against Women Act of 2010 (I-VAWA) and Undocumented Immigrants in the United States. AccessDenied: A Conversation on Un/authorized Im/migration and Health. Accessed (date) at https://accessdeniedblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/the-international-violence-against-women-act-of-2010-i-vawa-and-undocumented-immigrants-in-the-united-states/

  1. April 21, 2010 at 11:55 am

    There is and has been a domestic violence application that can be used by a non citizen,even if her husband,boyfriend is undocumented….there must be a police report, and if there are marks on the person take pictures, get an injunction and the rest will happen, also if there is a shelter they should know the process,I am not the immigration specialist but my staff that does these processes knows, I will ask her for more information…

    • Nia Parson
      May 5, 2010 at 2:33 pm

      Yes, that is the Violence Against Women Act, which has been very important. If a woman is undocumented in the US but is married to a US resident or citizen for example, she has access to the judicial system and social supports that can be very helpful. Here is a link about it http://www.womenslaw.org/laws_state_type.php?id=10270&state_code=US

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