Domestic Violence Provisions Punish Victims, Too

BACKGROUND: Current immigration law already metes out harsh consequences to those who commit crimes, including domestic violence offenses.

The Senate bill contains provisions that specifically target individuals involved in domestic violence disputes for deportation.[1] Senators Grassley, Cornyn and Sessions introduced several amendments during mark-up that sought to enhance and expand penalties for those accused of committing or who are convicted of domestic violence offenses.

THE PROBLEM: If a survivor fears that in reporting abuse, he or she will be deported, they are much less likely to seek help from law enforcement. Domestic violence survivors also often reject policies that would remove their spouses or partners, an outcome that would be disastrous for families that rely on them for financial support. Victims also often face challenges with regard to language, misinformation, uncertainty about their legal rights and limited access to immigration attorneys, which leaves them all the more vulnerable to punitive policies that do not take these facts into consideration.

THE SOLUTION: The domestic violence grounds of deportation should be limited rather than expanded, as they only undermine the efforts of advocates fighting to end domestic violence. Discretionary mechanisms that will allow judges and immigration agents to review and assess all the circumstances in someone’s case must be expanded; this is the only real way to ensure that the interests of domestic violence survivors and their families will be protected.


Adding deportation grounds for domestic violence offenses ignores the best interests of survivors and their children because it unnecessarily increases the likelihood of victims’ deportation in domestic violence cases, expands the grounds of deportability, makes victims more vulnerable to detention, and limits mechanisms to consider each individual case. For these reasons, domestic violence and survivor groups have overwhelmingly opposed these so-called solutions and continue to oppose the reckless expansion of deportation grounds for domestic violence offenses.


During the bill’s mark-up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, many amendments sought to expand deportation grounds for domestic violence. Most were defeated (except Cornyn Amendment #4). Many were re-filed on the Senate floor.

6/18/2013 Updates: Cornyn Amendment #3 included in RESULTS amendment. Grassley Amendment #46 filed.

Sen. Cornyn Amendment #3 and Sen. Sessions #22: These amendments automatically exclude individuals with several single misdemeanor convictions from either pursuing or maintaining legal status, and would prevent a judge from considering individual circumstances. These provisions would exclude victims of domestic violence, someone who got into a bar fight, and someone with a single DUI. This amendment lacks any sense of proportionality, automatically and permanently excluding people from legalization for offenses that were often deemed punishable with only a small fine in criminal court.

Sen. Grassley Amendment #46: This amendment expands the new domestic violence inadmissibility grounds and fails to add adequate waivers to consider individual circumstances. Although the amendment was defeated during mark-up, the likelihood of its re-introduction during the Senate debate is high.

Sen. Cornyn Amendment #4: In the current bill, people with old deportation orders are allowed to apply for legalization if they meet a specific set of criteria. This amendment would bar individuals with old deportation orders and any criminal convictions from applying. This amendment specifically targets individuals with domestic violence convictions. A second-degree amendment passed.


Cindy, a Taiwanese college student living in the United States, was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence changes for fighting off her attacker and biting his ear while she was being raped. After she was released pending trial, she spent time in a battered women’s shelter, but still ended up being convicted. The jury determined that she had acted to defend herself, but the force that she used was greater than the assault. The jury found her guilty of felony domestic violence. In this particular state, felony domestic violence has an automatic sentencing of time in state prison. Not a U.S. citizen, Cindy could be subject to deportation after serving her prison time. Under the bill’s current proposals, she would be vulnerable to mandatory detention and deportation.


156 groups that serve and advocate on behalf of victims of domestic violence, child and elder abuse, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the bill’s markup to address the domestic violence provisions:

….[W]e are concerned about immigration proposals that unnecessarily and imprudently increase the likelihood of deportation in domestic violence cases, expand grounds of inadmissibility or deportability related to domestic violence, or limit exceptions or waivers, because they threaten to harm survivors. Such provisions risk sweeping survivors into their scope and ignore the best interests of survivors and their children. 

Current immigration laws already mete out harsh consequences to those who commit serious crimes – including domestic violence-related offenses – ratcheting up those consequences and limiting or foreclosing waivers also ramps up the risk that survivors will be harmed.

In other circumstances, notwithstanding a domestic violence conviction of an abuser, there may be dependent children or other family members who rely on that individual as the sole support for the family. There should be discretionary waivers for those subject to inadmissibility for domestic violence grounds in cases where not allowing the individual to remain in the United States would actually punish his or her children or spouse by subjecting them to extreme hardship.

Back to Legalization Bars Section

Download PDF of Domestic Violence Talking Points or  IJN’s Criminal Bars to Legalization Packet

[1] The bill also adds a handful of additional protections for victims of crime and abuse. This factsheet does not address those beneficial provisions.