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A Guide to Self-Petition Under VAWA 1994
Are you suffering from an abusive relationship? Do not be afraid to speak up and fight for your civil rights. The criminal justice system implements domestic violence law that aims to stop violence against women, men, and children. Domestic and family violence can affect any person regardless of gender, age, nationality, socio-economic status, or cultural background. Unfortunately, women are more likely than men to experience actual or be threatened with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by an intimate partner.
In the United States, domestic violence victims, regardless of their immigration or citizenship status, can seek help from the government or non-governmental agencies. The national domestic violence hotline or helpline has operators trained to help victims of crime 24-hours a day free of charge. Issues such as domestic abuse, human trafficking, and exploitation in the workforce present unique challenges to noncitizen men and women due to the added vulnerability created by their immigration status in the United States.
If you are a foreign national who is suffering from your abusive 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 of 1994 (VAWA). A reliable North Carolina or California immigration attorney can help you determine whether you are eligible for self-petition under VAWA.
This article covers the following:
- What is Domestic Violence?
- What is the Violence Against Women Act 1994?
- What are the Forms of Violence That Qualify an Immigrant for VAWA Protection?
- What are the Eligibility Requirements for Self-Petition?
- What is The Role of an Immigration Lawyer?
What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior when one intimate partner or spouse threatens or abuses the other partner. The abuser aims to maintain total power and control over you by using fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation against you to wear you down and keep you under their thumb.
Abuse may include acts of violence such as physical harm, forced sexual relations, emotional manipulation (including isolation or intimidation), economic abuse, and immigration-related threats. While most recorded incidents of domestic violence involve men abusing women or children, men can also be victims of violence. Gender-based violence is any violence inflicted on victims because of their gender preference. This includes men, women, or other members of the LGBT community (lesbian or bisexual).
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal assault to different types of violence. Domestic violence includes the following:
- Emotional Abuse or Psychological Abuse – Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth and may lead to anxiety and depression.
- Physical Abuse – This occurs when physical force is used against you. Physical assault or battering is a crime.
- Sexual Abuse – Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is a domestic violence act. Furthermore, sexually abused victims are at a higher risk of being seriously injured, raped, or even murdered.
In the United States, any crime victim, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, can call the police or law enforcement to report all domestic violence cases, seek help, or obtain a protection order. Victims of domestic violence can apply for a court-issued restraining order that protects them from their abuser.
What is the Violence Against Women Act 1994?
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was a United States Federal Law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The act supports comprehensive cost-effective responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating abuse, and stalking. It aims to prevent abusive spouses from using their control over the immigration process to further intimidate survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence. It addresses congressional concerns about violence against women and children – or even violence against men, in several ways.
VAWA programs generally address domestic and family violence for which the risk of victimization is highest for abused women—although some domestic violence programs address additional violent crimes. The criminal activities include rape, torture, trafficking, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, blackmail, homicide, extortion, and manslaughter.
The VAWA allows survivors and their children to self-petition for their green cards with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) without the consent or participation of their spouse. USCIS must keep the entire self-petition process confidential from the abusive spouse. It is important to consult a credible North Carolina or California immigration attorney to help you understand the process of self-petition under VAWA.
What are the Forms of Violence That Qualify an Immigrant for VAWA Protection?
There are various ways on how you can apply for legal immigration status for you and your children. Your application is confidential and no one, including an abuser, crime perpetrator, or family member, will be informed. Here are some of the available immigration options:
- Self-petitions for legal status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
- Cancellation of removal under VAWA
- U-nonimmigrant status (for violent crime victims)
To qualify for VAWA protection and file a self-petition for immigration status, the first thing that you need to do is to prove the occurrence of the abuse. Here are the forms of abuse that have been held to qualify applicants for VAWA protection:
Battery or Physical Violence
Punching, kicking, beating, slapping, or hurting the victim is considered physical violence. Medical and police reports (as well as photos of bruises and marks of strangulation) can be used by battered women as evidence to prove the act of domestic violence and abuse.
Intimidation and Threats of Harm to Others
This occurs when the offender harms, intimidates, harasses, humiliates, or threatens to harm the immigrant’s spouse, children, family, and friends.
Economic or Financial Abuse
The perpetrator might not allow the victim to look for a job and deprive access to money.
Social Isolation or Forced Detention
The abuser might give strict orders as to whom the victim can and cannot see.
It is defined as any non-consensual and violent sexual act that may include the crimes of forcible rape and sexual assault or statutory rape.
Immigration Control as Abuse
Abusers have the tendency to use their control over the victim’s immigration status as a means of leverage.
Jealousy and Harassment
Some offenders become extremely jealous of the spouse’s ability to attract other admirers, and accuse them of flirtation and infidelity. There is a tendency that the victim will be stalked by the abuser.
This includes the abusive act of yelling, screaming, insulting, or otherwise mistreating the victim verbally.
This refers to violence committed by a person who is or has been in a dating relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim. Teen dating violence may also happen.
What are the Eligibility Requirements for Self-Petition?
You may be eligible for a VAWA self-petition if you meet the following requirements:
- Spouses and former spouses of abusive U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents
- Divorced spouses may self-petition if the termination of the marriage was related to the abuse and if the application is filed within two years of the termination of the marriage
- Children of abusive citizens or lawful permanent residents who file before turning 25
- A non-citizen parent of an abused non-citizen child, even if the non-citizen parent is not herself abused
- Non-citizen spouses whose children are abused by the child’s other U.S. citizen or LPR parent
- Abuse victims who entered into the marriage in “good faith,” (must not be a forced marriage entered into solely for immigration purposes)
- Victims of domestic violence who resided with the abusive spouse
- An abuse victim is a person of good moral character
- The victim was subjected to battery or extreme cruelty during the marriage
What is The Role of an Immigration Lawyer?
The main goal of VAWA is to end domestic violence against women and girls. If you are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who turned out to be abusive, you can file for self-petition under VAWA protection. This process requires strict confidentiality and must be kept from your abusive partner or parent.
Therefore, if you are filing it without their knowledge, it is advisable to seek legal assistance from our experienced North Carolina or California immigration attorneys at Diener Law. Our immigration law firm can guide you on how to strategically collect and organize the evidence you need to self-petition.