Protections For Immigrant Victims Of Violence Under The Reauthorized VAWA
On March 7, 2013 the President signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law. VAWA lapsed at the end of 2011 and had faced difficulties passing Congress due to some expansions in the areas of protections for Native American and LGTB victims of violence. This was the first time since the bill was originally passed in 1994 that Congress had allowed it to expire. While the act itself had not been renewed, Congress had continued to fund VAWA’s programs to keep them going. VAWA serves to protect and aid victims of domestic violence, rape, and human trafficking. It also provides special protections for immigrant victims of violence, specifically U visas and allowing for self-petitioning.
U Visas. U visas are for those who are not in lawful immigrant status but who are victims of serious crimes by U.S. citizens. In exchange for aiding law enforcement to prosecute these crimes, the victims may become eligible for U visas. Some of these crimes include rape, torture, domestic violence, kidnapping, and murder. U visas are limited to 10,000 per year– a limit which is usually reached within the first few months of the year.
Self-Petitioning. VAWA also creates a special pathway for eligible battered spouses who are non-citizens to obtaining immigration status on their own, without having to rely on a petition by the abusive spouse. This “self-petitioning” process serves to protect domestic violence victims against abusive spouses who would hold immigration consequences or benefits over the victim to prevent them from seeking aid. In order to qualify, the immigrant must be either the spouse or child of an abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident. VAWA allows the victim to file the paperwork without the involvement or even knowledge of the abusive spouse or parent.
To self-petition through VAWA, you must be:
- an abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident;
- an abused child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident;
- a spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who abused their child; or
- a parent who is abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident adult child.
You must prove that the abusive spouse, parent or adult child physically battered and/or subjected you to “extreme cruelty.” The abuse may have come in any of several forms, including physical, emotional or verbal abuse, threats to remove your immigration status, intimidation, or threats to take away your children.
You must also prove that the abuse occurred in the United States, and that you were living with the abuser. And, you must provide evidence of your own “good moral character” — which will usually include a review of whether you have a criminal record or committed any immigration violations. Finally, if you are an abused spouse, you must prove that the marriage was entered into in good faith, that the abuse occurred during the marriage, and that the marriage is still valid or was terminated less than two years prior to self-petitioning.
If your petition is approved, you will either be granted permanent residency immediately or will be placed in line for a visa, depending on whether the abusive spouse, parent or adult child was a citizen or permanent resident. If you do not receive your visa immediately, you will receive a work authorization allowing you to work while you wait.
The renewed VAWA added a few additional benefits to immigrants. Some of these additions include: (1) the addition of “stalking” to the list of crimes covered by U visas; (2) a “widows penalty” extension allowing a minor child whose parent died after filing a petition to continue to qualify through the petition; (3) demands that marriage brokers disclose any violent criminal history of a U.S. citizen spouse to the foreign fiancé(e); and (4) a provision that those who petition as self-petitioners or for U visas are not penalized for accepting public assistance.
The immigration lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. are experienced in representing immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence. From our offices in Manassas and Fairfax, Virginia, we represent clients in Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and across the United States. If you require assistance with a self-petitioning or U visa case, contact us to schedule your initial consultation with an experienced immigration attorney today.