advocacy with immigrant survivors toolkit

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Immigrant Survivors’ Rights and Resources

Civil Rights of Immigrants

 

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal funds. This means that individuals cannot be discriminated against because of their immigration status or limited English proficiency.

Other federal laws, however, define and/or limit immigrants’ access to services, programs, and benefits.

Generally speaking,

  • Federal welfare laws:
  • limit access to some public benefits (to varying degrees, depending on the program and various immigrant-based factors such as when an individual entered the US and their current immigration status),
  • guarantee access to services deemed “necessary to protect life and safety,”
  • provide access to services of charitable nonprofit organizations, and
  • permit states to either limit or increase access to state benefits.

VAWA also identifies immigrants as an underserved population, which means that recipients of VAWA funds can use the money to pay for any assistance to immigrant survivors, including those related to immigration matters.[1]

  • The Trafficking Victims Protection Act is a federal law that enhances protections to immigrant victims of trafficking and some crimes.
    • (See “Public benefits” for information on public benefits programs and eligibility requirements for immigrant survivors.)

 

The interplay of many laws relevant to immigrant survivors – for example, federal welfare laws, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act - with Title VI can be complicated, so federal agencies often issue guidelines and regulations that govern their programs. For example, the Attorney General’s guidelines for implementation of the Welfare Reform Act specify that federal civil rights law protects all applicants for public benefits from:[2]

  • the use of procedures that appear neutral but have the effect of discriminating against people based on race, color or national origin;
  • denial or delays of benefits on the basis of race, color, or national origin;
  • ineligibility determinations based on applicants’ ethnic surnames, origins outside the US, or because the applicants or their names look or sound foreign;
  • the assumption that applicants with any of these characteristics are undocumented immigrants; or
  • additional eligibility requirements of anyone based on their minority ethnic or racial status.

This guidance establishes a specific screening process for public benefits that have immigration-related eligibility requirements (see “Verification and reporting” for more information). The guidance as a whole seeks to protect immigrants’ civil rights and ensure that public benefits workers focus on providing assistance to people in need of economic support.

 

Beyond government agencies and workers, however, Title VI applies to all service providers who receive federal funds. Federally-funded groups who provide any of the following are mandated to serve all persons, regardless of immigration status:[3]

Moreover, charitable nonprofit organizations:[4]

  • are explicitly exempt from immigration verification and reporting requirements,
  • can legally provide services to all persons, regardless of immigration status, and
  • may not be penalized for not verifying immigration status or for providing services to an immigrant.

Access to these services, programs, and benefits has NOT been limited in the same way that access to federally-funded public benefits has been; as mentioned, in many cases, the law specifically states that these services must be available to all people. Providers that fit into any of these categories (including sexual and/or domestic violence programs) and deny services to undocumented immigrants risk violating federal civil rights laws and losing federal funding.



[1] Fata, S., Orloff, L.E. & Drew, M. (2013). Access to programs and services that can help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. In Empowering Survivors: Legal Rights of Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault. National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.

[3] PL 104-193 [The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996].