As an immigration lawyer in Houston, one of my first few clients, Janna, came to see me about her immigration status. She had a nervous smile, and told me that she was married to a citizen of the United States. I asked her why he wasn’t at the appointment with her. She slowly began to explain that their marriage had problems. She told me that he could be very jealous, she told me that before they married, they’d broken up a couple of times.
When she had left him, he had his 6-year-old daughter, who she’d grown to love, call her to tell her to come see them soon. She caved, went back to him, and they married. Now his jealousy issues were at an extreme, and at one point he’d struck her when he thought she might not have come directly home from work. It took time for her to open up about the problems in the relationship, but there were many, and they were obvious to a third-party observer like me.
Janna was experiencing domestic violence in her marriage. And although it’s called “domestic violence” abuse in marriages can range from control of documentation and finances to emotional abuse and manipulation to physical violence. An estimated twenty people every minute being abused by their significant other or partner. To victims, it may not seem like there is a way out of the relationship, let alone the chance of seeking justice for what their abuser has done to them.
For those who are also immigrants, the situation can be even more terrifying, Many victims of domestic violence who are undocumented fear deportation or other punishment if they seek help. However, there are legal protections in place for victims of domestic violence who want to get out of their abusive marriages and relationships. Namely, the Violence against Women Act.
-A note from Immigration lawyer in Houston, Kathryn N. Karam, P.C.
What is The Violence Against Women Act?
The Violence against Women Act, or VAWA, is a federal law designed to improve how the criminal justice system approaches violent crimes against women and to improve investigations and prosecutions against perpetrators of those crimes.
VAWA also created the Office on Violence against Women, which operates through the U.S. Department of Justice. The crimes covered under VAWA include, but are not limited to, domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence. It was originally passed into law in 1994 and has since been reauthorized three times in 2000, 2005, and 2013, respectively.
The most recent renewal of VAWA closed gaps in its coverage and extended its protections to women who are Native American, LGBTQ, college students, immigrants, or who are in public housing. For immigrants who are illegal or do not have permanent residency, VAWA allows them to seek temporary visas if their abuser has permanent residency or citizenship. That feature, in addition to extending protections to the LGBTQ community, led to strong opposition to the 2013 renewal from conservatives and a lengthy legislative fighting in Congress.
Do Undocumented Immigrants Qualify for VAWA?
If you are an immigrant and want to file for residence through VAWA, you need to meet several requirements:
- Show that you are a victim of domestic abuse: physical abuse and/or “extreme cruelty,” which includes emotional and psychological abuse and control.
- The abuser needs to be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident
- You must be related to the abuser in one of three ways: you are their spouse or partner, you are their child or stepchild, or you are their parent or step-parent
In cases where the victim of abuse is a child, their non-abusive parent or guardian can apply for VAWA on their behalf. A child of an abuse victim can also be included on their parent’s VAWA petition, even if the child was not abused.
For victims who are or were married to their abusers, there is a requirement that the victim show that the marriage was in good faith. On other words, neither party the couple actually lived together during the marriage and intended to establish a life together and did not simply marry for immigration purposes.
Where the victim and abuser are already divorced, a VAWA petition must be filed within two years of the end of the marriage, and evidence of a connection between the abuse/violence and the divorce itself need to be presented. The abusive spouse must be a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident at the time of the abuse and filing of the petition for the victim to be eligible, even if the spouse did not when the marriage took place (A person whose spouse loses permanent residency may qualify for an exception).
Those who are in civil unions or similar relationships (e.g. dating, domestic partnership) are unfortunately not eligible for VAWA, but may still receive a temporary visa should they be able to demonstrate that they are a victim of a crime and are helpful to the authorities in investigation of the crime.
Can Men Apply for a Green Card Through VAWA?
Despite the law being called the Violence against Women Act, it is not gender-specific. Both men and women can file for VAWA. While domestic violence and abuse is heavily prevalent amongst women, men can be victims as well, with about 24 percent of domestic violence survivors being men. The language of VAWA is intentionally gender-neutral to allow coverage for victims from all walks of life.
The 2005 and 2013 renewals of VAWA increased the protections for male victims and added sections that prohibit any kind of gender discrimination towards victims under the law. That being said, male victims are equally eligible for VAWA and its features. Should a male victim of domestic violence who is abused by an abuser with U.S. residency or citizenship seek a visa or green card through VAWA, they must still meet the same criteria listed above.
Can I Apply for a VAWA if I’m in a Same-sex Marriage?
Yes, you may apply for a VAWA if you are in a same-sex marriage. VAWA covers legal marriages between individuals of the opposite or same sex. Abuse can happen to anyone, male or female, and can take place in LGBT marriages and marriages between cisgender or transgender individuals.
Immigration Lawyer in Houston
If you are undocumented and experiencing abuse in your marriage, you should report abuse to law enforcement and take actions to protect yourself. These actions may include developing a plan to leave your abuser, seeking counseling, and getting help with your immigration status. As immigration lawyers in Houston, the Law Office of Kathryn N. Karam PC, can help undocumented victims of domestic abuse.
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) - National Statistics https://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline - What is the Violence against Women Act? http://www.thehotline.org/resources/vawa/
- S. Department of Justice - Office on Violence Against Women: About the Office https://www.justice.gov/ovw/about-office
- National Network to End Domestic Violence - The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Renewal Passes The House and Senate and Signed Into Law http://nnedv.org/policy/issues/vawa.html
- One Hundred Thirteenth Congress of the United States of America, An Act to Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (PDF) https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s47enr/pdf/BILLS-113s47enr.pdf
- The New York Times “Women Figure Anew in Senate’s Latest Battle” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/us/politics/violence-against-women-act-divides-senate.html
- AllLaw – Who Can Get A Green Card Through VAWA? http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/green-card-vawa-eligibility.html
- S. Department of Homeland Security – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Battered Spouse, Children & Parents https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/battered-spouse-children-parents
- NOLO – Should You Apply For a U Visa or for VAWA? https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/should-you-apply-u-visa-vawa.html
- S. Department of Justice – Special Report: Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003-2012 https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ndv0312.pdf
- GovTrack – H.R. 3355 (103rd): Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/103/hr3355/text
- GovTrack – H.R. 3402 (109th): Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/109/hr3402/text