Violence Against Women Act

Violence Against Women Act

VAWA Immigration: Path to Green Card for Victims of Domestic Violence

If you are an immigrant who is experiencing abuse, we are available to help you fight deportation and become a permanent resident outside of your domestic relationship. As a victim of abuse from your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or partner, you may be eligible to apply for a green card separate from your abuser through the Violence Against Women Act.

The Violence Against Women Act was a United States Federal Law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The act provided billions of dollars toward the investigation of crimes against women and the prosecution of the perpetrators. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was sponsored by several senators, including Orrin Hatch and current President Joe Biden, and drew support from many organizations and advocacy groups.

In order to qualify for the Violence Against Women Act, a victim must prove he or she has been subjected to cruelty by a U.S. citizen and has been present in the U.S. for at least 3 years.

Do I Need a VAWA Immigration Lawyer?

If you are eligible to apply for VAWA, hiring an immigration lawyer is in your best interest. Though hiring a VAWA immigration lawyer is not technically required, working with an attorney can help in the process of attaining a visa. Being in an abusive relationship can be isolating. You do not have to go through this alone, a VAWA attorney can be by your side as you pursue your case.

In addition to immigration support, a VAWA immigration lawyer is seasoned in the paperwork and process of obtaining a VAWA green card. Filing forms for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can oftentimes become difficult and confusing. Having an experienced attorney by your side for your VAWA immigration application and process can benefit you greatly.

You Are Not Alone

If you are a victim of abuse, know that you are not alone in your struggle. Your abuser may try to undermine the feelings and severity of the abuse, but know that any form of domestic violence is still abuse.

If you are concerned about your abuser finding out about your pursuit of a VAWA immigrant visa, know that the process is confidential. You can gain permanent residency without your spouse, and any threats they may make against that cannot be held over you. Citizenship — and leaving your abuser — is possible.

It’s important to note that though the process of applying for a VAWA immigration visa is confidential, your abuser may have access to what you want to keep private from them. Consider your privacy regarding internet, phone, even computer storage. Can your abuser see your internet history or past phone calls? Are you being tracked via phone or car GPS or recorded on security cameras? These are a few ways that your abuser may find out about your pursuit. Do not let this stop you — you and your VAWA immigration lawyer can find ways to communicate that will not jeopardize your safety while pursuing this application.    

Process of Applying for A VAWA Green Card

There are two steps in applying for a green card through the VAWA:

  1. File a self-petition and supporting evidence
  2. Apply for adjustment of status

Though there are just two steps to apply for your green card through VAMA immigration, the process of filling out the forms can be confusing. It will be helpful to have the assistance of a VAWA immigration lawyer to make sure all forms are completed properly and to collect all relevant and necessary evidence.

The first step is to self-petition using Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. If you are self-petitioning due to the fact you are an abused spouse or child under VAWA qualifications, you do not have to pay the filing fee.

If the USCIS approves your self-petition, then you may file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. If your petition is approved, you will be granted your green card.

Who Is Eligible to Self-Petition For VAWA?

VAWA recipients are those who are in a domestic violence situation. Though the name is Violence Against Women Act, the law’s protection is not limited to immigrant women. If you are a man being abused in a partnership or a child victim of domestic violence and child abuse, you are eligible to self-petition under VAWA. You are eligible to self-petition under VAWA if:

  • You are an abused or battered spouse of a U.S. citizen or LPR
  • You are a spouse of a U.S. citizen or LPR and your child or children are being abused
  • You are a child of a U.S. citizen or LPR who is being abused or battered by that parent

It is common for immigrants who are abused to not self-petition because they do not believe they are qualified for VAWA. The truth is that domestic violence can look very differently from case to case. Battery and assault are not the only forms of abuse.

The United Nations defines domestic abuse as “behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate pattern.” The power and control dynamic takes shape in many forms, including:

  • Physical abuse and battering
  • Sexual assault and/or rape
  • Emotional
  • Economic control
  • Psychological
  • Intimidation factors
  • Isolation

Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. It can happen to anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic background, level of education, and status of partnership.

If you are an immigrant married to a U.S. citizen or LPR, you may find yourself in a situation where your immigrant status is being threatened by your abuser — your abuser may withhold documents or threaten to deport you. Note that this does not need to occur for you to be a VAMA immigrant, it just might be a behavior your abuser is doing. The USCIS recognizes that this happens. You are still eligible for VAMA, regardless of what your abuser threatens you with. We are here to help you collect evidence in a situation that may seem impossible to do so. VAWA immigration cases are confidential. The government will not contact you directly to ensure your safety. If you are the victim of domestic violence, there is hope.

What Evidence Do You Need for a VAWA Immigration Case?

To file a self-petition under VAWA, a lot of evidence is required to send in along with your form. Both your VAWA immigration lawyer and USCIS recognize that collecting evidence may be challenging depending on your circumstances. Abusers may withhold documents, or you may have left without collecting documents. For VAWA self-petitioners, the evidence required must show:

  • Evidence of the abuser’s status as either a U.S. citizen or LPR
  • Evidence of your relationship with the abuser
  • Documents showing you and the abuser have shared residency. This can be shown through utility receipts, school records, mortgages, rental records, and more
  • Evidence of abuse. Note: you do not need a police record to prove evidence of abuse. If there are police records, they should be used as evidence, but they are not necessary
  • Affidavit of good moral character with criminal background check. The report must be from where you have been living for six or more months during the three-year time period before filing your Form I-360
  • If you are married, you must show evidence that your marriage began in good faith
  • Any other relevant information

If you are in a position where documentation is difficult to collect, having an attorney by your side to help collect evidence and determine what is suitable to present as evidence can strengthen your case.

How an Attorney Can Help

A VAWA immigration lawyer who has ample experience with VAWA immigration can help you in a multitude of ways.

As discussed before, the entire process of self-petitioning for VAWA immigration is a confidential process not shared with your abusive partner or parent(s). If you are filing without their knowledge, a VAWA attorney near you can hold onto documents, request information, and have mail sent to the law office on your behalf.

An immigration lawyer is also a knowledgeable resource about how to strategically collect and organize the evidence you need to self-petition.

How VAWA Helps Immigrant Spouses

VAWA provides a way for abused and battered immigrant spouses and children of U.S. citizens or LPRs to obtain their own lawful permanent residence. VAWA makes obtaining a green card possible without notifying your abuser. You can apply for a green card independently.

Reauthorization of VAWA Over the Years

The VAWA is a crucial piece of legislation whose goal was to improve criminal justice and responses to domestic violence and sexual assault. The original law was signed in 1994, but it was reauthorized in the years 2000, 2005, and 2013. The VAWA has allowed victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to seek help and gain access to services available for them.

1994 – VAWA is Passed

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, VAWA was initially passed into law in 1994. This law included community coordination that united the criminal justice system, social services, and non-profits responding to domestic violence and sexual assault. Additional support for the cause was recognized and resources were established, including domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers. Additional components of the law included the following:

  • Federal prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes
  • Federal guarantees of protection orders
  • Protection for abused immigrants

2000 – Extended Protections for Immigrants

In 2000, Congress improved the established VAWA by identifying additional crimes related to dating violence and stalking. Legal assistance was provided, and programs were made available to victims of sexual violence and assault. Additionally, further protections were put into place for immigrants experiencing domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

2005 – Enhanced Criminal and Civil Justice Responses

Five years later, Congress enhanced the criminal and civil justice responses to domestic violence. Focus was shifted to holistically protecting victims of domestic violence, including immigrant women. Prevention strategies were put into place in an effort to stop violence before it occurred. Additionally, federal funding was made available to support rape crisis centers, and programs for victims were enhanced.

2013 – Increased Protections and Resources

President Barack Obama reauthorized the VAWA in 2013, which extended services that protected Native American women and members of LGBTQ+ community. The reauthorization also provided law enforcement with resources to better investigate rape cases, gave colleges more tools to educate students about the dangers of sexual assault and violence, and allowed tribal courts to prosecute individuals who committed domestic violence.

Statistics

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by their partner. Over 20,000 calls come in of the domestic violence hotline per day in the United States. After the Violence Against Women Act was passed, the rate of domestic partner violence against females decreased by over 50% between 1993 and 2008 and has continued to decrease over the years.

VAWA Grant Program

The VAWA Grant Program is administered by the Office of Crime Victim Services. The grant program supports a variety of projects and initiatives that create partnerships among law enforcement, organizations, and communities, provides specialized training opportunities, and increases the resources available for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Contact an Attorney Today

The attorneys at Scott D. Pollock & Associates, P.C. have over seven decades of combined experience. Our attorneys provide individuals with the support and legal representation to navigate domestic violence cases. Contact a member of our team today at 312.444.1940.

We're looking forward to hearing from you!