For those going through the United States immigration process, you know that it is one with many rules and pitfalls. It is marked by requirements for citizenship sponsorships, familial ties or familial lawful permanent residency requirements.
This complexity can make immigrants vulnerable, and abusers often victimize potential immigrants by threatening to withdraw or withhold their immigration petition.
However, there are laws to protect these victims from the abuse of the United States immigration process.
Violence Against Women Act of 1994
In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which provides noncitizens abused by lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens a pathway to citizenship. This path allows them to independently petition for citizenship without the need to involve or even inform their abuser.
Who can use it?
Parents, spouses and children of abusive U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can self-petition USCIS as a VAWA self-petitioner.
If approved, they can seek lawful permanent residency and, eventually, their Green Card through the VAWA petition. If the petitioner is outside the United States, the petitioner can initiate the process through the consulate, and if they are local, they can file with USCIS.
Spouses can qualify as a VAWA petitioner, if their spouse is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and abused them.
The spouse can also file if their child was the abuse victim, and the spouse can include all their unmarried children, if they are under 21 and have not already filed for status themselves.
You must have entered the marriage in good faith and not simply to evade immigration laws. If your abusive spouse died or they lost their status, the petition must be filed within two years.
If the abuser’s children are under 21 and unmarried, they can file a VAWA petition too. After 21, you can still file, but it must be before 25, and you must prove that you could not file before this time because of the abuse or the abuser.
VAWA petitions must prove that they are one of the people listed above, and they experienced abuse from a qualifying person. The abuse must constitute battery or extreme cruelty, and you must be a person of good moral character.
Of course, documenting all this can be difficult. Immigration attorneys help clients cut through the bureaucracy.