VAWA Immigration and the Road to Permanent Residency
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a critical piece of legislation that has been in existence in the United States since 1994. It was enacted to address the widespread issue of gender-based violence and provide legal protections and resources to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and other forms of violence against women. Although it started off only to curb gender-based violence against women, over the years, VAWA benefits have not been limited to any particular gender or sex, and it now aims to provide protection to abuse victims who may not be US citizens.
In line with its goal of safeguarding victims of abuse, battery, or extreme cruelty regardless of gender or sex, individuals who have experienced abuse at the hands of a US citizen spouse, former spouse, parent, or child, as well as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) spouse, former spouse, or parent, may be eligible to obtain a green card.
Eligibility for filing under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) recognizes that abuse can occur in various familial relationships; thus, it falls under these three classes- Spouse, Parent, and Child. These categories allow victims of abuse to seek protection and relief for themselves and their children, if applicable, under US immigration laws.
Spousal eligibility allows you to file for yourself if you or your child(ren) have experienced abuse by your US Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) spouse. If you are applying under this category, you have the option to include any unmarried children under the age of 21 if they have not already filed separately for themselves. This means that not only can you seek protection for yourself but also for your children, who may have been victims of abuse.
Parent eligibility allows you to file if your child is a US citizen and they have abused you. This means that if your child, who is a US citizen, has been abusive towards you, you may be eligible to file for immigration benefits under this category. This recognizes that abuse can occur within familial relationships, and parents who have been victims of abuse by their US citizen children may also seek protection.
Child eligibility allows you to file for yourself if you are under 21, unmarried, and have experienced abuse by a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) parent. If you have children of your own, they can also be included in this petition. This recognizes that children who are victims of abuse by their US citizen or LPR parent should be eligible for protection and relief, regardless of their age or marital status.
The Need for VAWA
Violence against women, men, and minors inclusive is a pervasive problem that affects millions of individuals in the United States and around the world. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men in the US have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Additionally, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the US have been raped at some point in their lives. These statistics highlight the urgent need to address the issue of gender-based violence and provide support to survivors.
Historically, survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking faced numerous barriers in seeking help and accessing justice. These barriers included fear of retaliation, lack of financial resources to hire a New York or Brooklyn immigration attorney, language barriers, immigration status, and limited knowledge about their rights. Furthermore, survivors often encountered challenges in navigating the complex legal system, securing protective orders, and obtaining essential services such as counseling, healthcare, and housing.
Process of Applying for A VAWA Green Card
There are two main steps involved in applying for a green card through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA):
File a self-petition and provide supporting evidence: The first step is to submit Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, as a self-petitioner. This form is used to establish that you are eligible for VAWA immigration benefits as an abused spouse or child. If you are self-petitioning under VAWA, you are not required to pay a filing fee.
Apply for Adjustment of Status: If your self-petition is approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you can then file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. This form is used to request that your immigration status be adjusted to that of a lawful permanent resident, which is also known as obtaining a green card.
While there are only two steps in the process, filling out the necessary forms and providing the required evidence can be complex. It may be beneficial to seek the assistance of a qualified Brooklyn immigration attorney to ensure that all forms are completed accurately and all relevant evidence is collected.
It’s important to note that VAWA protection is not limited to immigrant women, as mentioned earlier, despite the name of the act. Men who are victims of domestic violence in a relationship, as well as children who are victims of domestic violence and child abuse, are also eligible to self-petition under VAWA. Eligibility for self-petitioning under VAWA includes being;
- An abused or battered spouse of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR)
- A spouse of a US citizen or LPR with abused children
- A child of a US citizen or LPR who is being abused or battered by a parent.
What Documentation is Necessary for a VAWA Immigration Case?
When submitting a self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), substantial evidence must accompany your form. Both your VAWA immigration attorney and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) acknowledge that gathering evidence can be difficult, depending on your circumstances. Abusers may withhold important documents, or you may have fled without the opportunity to collect them. As a VAWA self-petitioner, you will need to provide compelling evidence that demonstrates the following:
- Evidence of the abuser’s legal status, such as their citizenship or LPR (Lawful Permanent Resident) status.
- Marriage/divorce decrees, birth certificates, or other documentation that establishes the legal relationship between you and the abuser.
- Documents that show you lived together with the abuser.
- Any evidence you have of the abuse, although a police report is not required, it can be used as evidence.
- If you are above the age of 14, you must provide an affidavit of good moral character and a criminal background check.
- If the eligibility is based on a spousal relationship, you must show that the marriage was entered into in good faith.
It’s important to note that having a police report is not the only solid requirement, and an experienced immigration attorney Brooklyn who is knowledgeable in VAWA cases can help you build a strong case with other forms of evidence. Here is a list of evidence that can qualify:
- Affidavits or written statements from witnesses who have knowledge of the abuse, such as family members, friends, or counselors.
- Medical records or reports documenting injuries sustained due to the abuse.
- Photographs or videos showing visible evidence of abuse, such as bruises, cuts, or other injuries.
- Counseling records or therapy notes indicating the impact of the abuse on your mental health.
- Sworn statements from experts, such as psychologists or social workers, who can provide professional opinions on the abuse.
- Any other relevant documents or evidence that can support your claim of abuse.
Remember, it’s crucial to work with an experienced Brooklyn immigration attorney who can guide you on the specific evidence requirements for your case and help you build a compelling case to support your I-360 petition as a VAWA petitioner.
How VAWA Assists Immigrant Spouses
VAWA offers assistance to immigrant spouses and children who have experienced abuse or domestic violence from US citizens or Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs). VAWA provides a pathway for them to obtain lawful permanent residence, commonly known as a green card, without having to notify their abuser. This allows them to apply independently for their green card and gain legal status in the United States.
Ways in Which an Immigration Attorney Can Assist You
An experienced VAWA immigration attorney Brooklyn can provide invaluable assistance in various ways. As previously mentioned, the process of self-petitioning for VAWA immigration is confidential and not shared with your abusive partner or parent(s). If you are filing without their knowledge, a VAWA attorney located in your area can securely hold onto documents, request information, and receive mail on your behalf at their law office.
Furthermore, an immigration lawyer is well-versed in strategically collecting and organizing the evidence you need to support your self-petition. They can provide expert guidance on how to gather the necessary documentation to strengthen your case effectively.
Seek Legal Counsel Today
With a combined experience of over thirty decades, the skilled attorneys at Gehi and Associates are ready to provide you with the guidance and legal representation you need to navigate domestic violence cases. Don’t hesitate, contact us today for professional legal assistance, schedule a free consultation HERE.