In 1994, Congress took on the enormous task of addressing crimes against women by enacting the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA). Fundamentally, VAWA was created to address domestic violence crimes and respond to the needs of victims of crime through supportive measures such as federal grants, collaborative efforts between the criminal justice system and social agencies; and the legislation details immigration provisions that address a self-petition process for battered foreign nationals who face abuse by their spouses.
Under VAWA, undocumented individuals that have been the victims of domestic violence by their United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouse can self-petition for immigration-related status changes without having to go through their abusive partner. In other words, a VAWA petition allows undocumented victims of domestic violence and their children to ultimately substitute a self-petition for lawful status instead of seeking lawful status that originally would have been based on sponsorship by the abusive spouse.
To qualify for VAWA, the victim must demonstrate evidence of the following:
- The abuser is a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permeant Resident (green card holder);
- a bona fide marriage to the abuser (or divorced/widowed within 2 years prior to the date of filing); and,
- the abuser subjected the victim to extreme cruelty.
Domestic violence can take on many forms, and often is labeled as a family or intimate partner violence. When it comes to domestic violence crimes, there is a higher risk of victimization amongst women. However, despite its name, male victims and undocumented parents can also seek out protection under VAWA. Moreover, VAWA may also cancel removal proceedings if a victim is undergoing deportation. If the victim has already been deported, they may still be eligible to qualify for VAWA.
In domestic violence cases, abuse can include:
- Physical abuse
- Verbal Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Psychological Abuse
- Economic Abuse
- Threats and Harassment
If approved, VAWA self-petitioners may seek legal permanent residence and obtain a Green Card (by consular processing if the self-petitioner is outside the United States or by adjustment of status self-petitioner is in the United States). Because the overall legislation is oriented towards protection and prevention, there are resources and federally funded programs that are available to undocumented victims of domestic violence.
Among others, below are some of the resources and benefits that are available to VAWA recipients:
- Transitional housing programs
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
- Employment Authorization
- Medicare or Medicaid
- Public and Assisted Housing
In the immigrant community, there are several hurdles to overcome when seeking to gain lawful status under VAWA. There may be issues with finding original marriage certificates, proving a bona fide marriage, or having enough evidence to demonstrate that the abuse suffered was extreme cruelty.
Despite these hurdles, there are a variety of ways for one to establish enough evidence to support their petition. One way is to make a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) to get copies of immigration-related documents that pertain to the victim.
Every 5 years since its enactment, Congress has successfully reauthorized VAWA. As one of the original authors of the 1994 legislation, this year President Biden signed VAWA into law, reauthorizing VAWA and protecting survivors of domestic violence.
If you are a non-citizen and are currently or have been a victim of domestic violence at the hands of your spouse, it is important that you get an experienced immigration attorney on your side to help you get the protection you need. You don’t have to put up with the abuse. You may be eligible to obtain lawful status through VAWA.
Contact NexGenMigrant to learn your rights. Be sure to join our mailing list and check out more of our blogs! To schedule an initial consultation with us today, don’t hesitate to contact us at (469) 454-2596.