Publication Date

Winter 1-30-2018


Since 2011, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in the arrival of Central American immigrant women and their children. During the last two years, the US government apprehended more than 100,000 immigrant families, primarily Central American women traveling with their children (US Dept. of Homeland Security, 2015). Evidence suggests that Central American women’s motivations to migrate and experiences during migration are often tied to violence (Cook Heffron, 2015; UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 2015), and yet their experiences after arriving in the US do not always support their rights, recovery or healing. In fact, Central American women and children apprehended and detained in detention centers in the United States are often fleeing from domestic violence, sexual violence, and the highest rates of femicide in the world. Many women present themselves at the US-Mexico border seeking safety for themselves and their children yet they may remain detained for months, sometimes longer than a year, as they pursue their asylum claims. The longer they are in detention, the greater the risk of re-traumatization. This brief describes preliminary findings of a research study that seeks to understand Latina immigrant women’s and their children’s experiences seeking asylum due to gender based violence and to document the experiences of detention of women and children seeking asylum for gender based violence, the consequences of detention on survivors of violence (e.g. re- victimization), and post-detention service needs. This study pays particular attention to Latina immigrants from Central America (primarily El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), as they represent a large portion of asylum-seeking Latina immigrants who have experienced detention.

By understanding the process of detention and how Latinas experience detention and possible re- traumatization, as well as the unique needs and services required to assist survivors throughout detention and upon release from detention, well-informed policy recommendations and practice priorities can be developed to promote trauma-informed approaches at every entry point for women seeking asylum in the United States. Using an exploratory qualitative approach and thematic analysis, this research study provides empirical evidence related to the needs and experiences of previously-detained immigrant women, with the aim of documenting detention and post-detention needs and services of Latina immigrant women seeking asylum in the United States.

Document Type



Latina and children wellbeing


Health Policy | Migration Studies | Peace and Conflict Studies | Politics and Social Change | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social Welfare


SMU Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development