Domestic Violence and Immigration (VAWA)
If you are in an abusive relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, or you live with an abusive parent or child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you may feel pressured to remain with your relative in order to obtain sponsorship for certain immigration benefits. You may even experience the U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser withholding sponsorship from you as a form of abuse.
The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), enacted in 1994, allows physically or emotionally abused immigrants to petition for legal status in the U.S. without relying on sponsorship of a United States citizen (“USC”) or lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) spouse, parent, or child. VAWA is available to both men and women who have experienced either physical or emotional abuse. VAWA provides an immigration option to adjust to lawful permanent resident status, and can also be raised in immigration proceedings as a form of relief from removal.
While victims are not required to be represented by attorneys or sponsored by family members, the evidence and honesty that is required to successfully handle these cases usually makes legal representation a very good idea.
Houston Immigration Lawyer for VAWA Claims
If you are in the United States without legal status (or with status that is only temporary), and you feel trapped in an abusive or violent relationship, it is important for you to understand all of your legal options. The Law Office of Kathryn N. Karam, P.C. helps foreign nationals all over the Gulf Coast area who are victims of domestic violence.
Harris County immigration attorney Kathryn Karam represents businesses, employers, and individual immigrants in communities throughout Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Galveston County, Harris County, and Brazoria County. She will provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case when you call (832) 582-0620 today to schedule a confidential consultation.
Texas VAWA Information Center
- What are the benefits of VAWA?
- What is the process to apply for VAWA?
- What are the basic eligibility requirements for VAWA?
- Who is considered a child under VAWA?
- Who is considered a spouse under VAWA?
- Who is considered a parent under VAWA?
- What is considered battery and extreme cruelty under VAWA
- What supporting documentation should be submitted to USCIS?
- Where can find more information about this law and domestic violence in Houston?
Benefits of VAWA
VAWA allows an immigrant who suffered abuse or extreme cruelty from his or her U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent, or child to self-petition for permanent residence without the abuser’s knowledge. In addition to the ability to self-petition, VAWA grants the following benefits:
- Approved VAWA applicants are granted legal status in the U.S.;
- Approved VAWA applicants may apply for work authorization while application for permanent residence is pending;
- Legal status granted under VAWA is permanent;
- VAWA protection applies equally to men and women;
- Freedom from abusive relative
Process to Apply for VAWA
Due to the sensitive nature of VAWA applications it is best to consult an experienced attorney and extensively plan the process. Like with any other form of immigration relief, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) requires extensive evidence, which may be difficult to obtain with an abusive relative.
First, a VAWA applicant must complete a Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. An applicant should consider using a secure address other than his or her home address if still living with an abusive relative. USCIS will send the receipt of the application and other documentation about the application. It is recommended that you complete the process without the abuser’s knowledge.
Upon receipt of the application, USCIS will issue a receipt. The receipt provides evidence of proper filing and notifies the applicant that his or her application is under review. Should USCIS require more evidence, it will send a request for evidence (“RFE”).
If USCIS is not satisfied with the evidence provided, it will issue a Notice of Intent to Deny (“NOID”). This document provides the applicant with the specific allegation or derogatory information, to which the applicant must provide a rebuttal. Should USCIS be dissatisfied with the rebuttal, the application is denied.
If USCIS approves the VAWA petition, the applicant is granted legal status in the United States. He or she may petition for work authorization and for permanent residency.
Generally, an applicant must apply for VAWA within the U.S. The following exceptions apply:
- Abuser is a U.S. government employee;
- Abuser is a member of the uniformed services; or
- Applicant suffered batter or extreme cruelty in the U.S.
Basic VAWA Eligibility Requirements
Determining whether a victim of violence qualifies for VAWA is complex. Eligibility greatly depends on the victim’s familial relationship to the abuser. VAWA Self-Petitioners must be either:
Spouses of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
- Children (unmarried under the age of 21) of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident; or
- Parents of U.S. citizen child age 21 of older
The aforementioned persons must prove
- They suffered battery (physical abuse) or extreme cruelty (severe emotional or non-physical abuse) by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident abusers;
- They resided with that abuser; and
- They are a person of good moral character (children less than 14 years of age are presumed to be people of good moral character).
Who is Considered a Child Under VAWA
Generally, a child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident qualifies for VAWA given he or she fulfills the other requirements. Also, a child qualifies for VAWA if the USC or LPR parent lost or renounced status in the U.S. as a result related to domestic violence.
The child of the USC or LPR must be unmarried and under the age of 21 at the time of filing the VAWA petition. In limited circumstances, the child may be no older than age 25 at the time of filing, if he or she can prove the delay was caused by the abuse.
A child petitioner for VAWA may include his or her own children in the petition.
Who is Considered a Spouse Under VAWA
Establishing spousal eligibility is more complicated. Generally, a VAWA applicant is considered a spouse under the following circumstances:
- be married to a U.S. citizen or LPR abuser;
- previously been married to U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser and marriage was terminated by death or a divorce within two years of filing petition;
- had spouse lose or renounce citizenship or LPR status within two years of filing petition due to an incident of domestic violence; or
- Believed he or she was legally married to his or her abusive U.S. citizen or LPR spouse but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of the bigamy of the abusive spouse.
In some instances, the spouse of the U.S. citizen or permanent resident may not have suffered the abuse personally. In cases where the child suffered the abuse, the spouse is eligible for VAWA and may include the child (unmarried and under the age of 21) in the petition.
Who is Considered a Parent Under VAWA
Generally, a parent of a U.S. citizen abuser, who is over the age of 21, may qualify for VAWA given other requirements are met. The qualifying relationship for parents applying for VAWA is limited to U.S. citizen children only. A parent may also qualify if the U.S. citizen child renounced status in the U.S. as a result related to domestic violence.
Battery and Extreme Cruelty
Battery and extreme cruelty encompasses a wide variety of offenses and threats. The list below is not exhaustive. An applicant should consult an experienced immigration attorney when determining whether a qualifying relative’s conduct is considered “battery or extreme cruelty”.
Common examples of battery or extreme cruelty include but are not limited to:
- Forceful detention which results in physical or mental abuse;
- Psychological or sexual abuse, including rap, molestation, forced prostitution;
- Homicide (or threat thereof);
- Aggravated assault; and/or
- Other acts not initially violent, but part of overall pattern of violence
USCIS requires extensive documentation to prove qualifying relationship and substantiate the abuse. It is highly recommended to plan ahead and consult an experienced attorney before applying for VAWA.
USCIS requires an applicant provide the following:
- Declaration or affidavit describing qualifying relation, abuse, and good moral character;
- Evidence of abuse (i.e police report, court order, etc.);
- Copy of birth certificate and passport;
- Proof of qualifying relationship (i.e. marriage certificate, birth certificate)
- Proof spouse, parent, or child is a USC or LPR (birth certificate, green card, or naturalization certificate);
- Proof lived with abuser (i.e. apartment lease, mortgage statement, etc.);
- Proof currently resides with abuser;
- 2 passport-style photographs
Texas Domestic Violence Resources for Immigrants
Family Violence Unit and Locations | City of Houston —This investigative unit under the Special Crimes Division of the Houston Police Department (HPD) has four locations including downtown and the north, south, and west sides of the city. The Family Violence Unit has a mission to work toward ending family violence in the community. You can learn more about community agencies, protective orders, and stalking and workplace tips on this website.
1200 Travis Street
Houston, TX 77002
Houston Area Women's Center — The Houston Area Women's Center opened its first shelter with eight beds one year after being incorporated in 1977. The 501(c)(3) organization now has more than 100 paid staff members, a counseling and administrative building, a residential shelter for 120 women and children, a state-of-the-art hotline call center, and over 1,000 active volunteers. On this website, you can find answers to frequently asked questions, a description of the services provided by the Women’s Center, and annual reports.
1010 Waugh Drive
Houston, TX. 77019
Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA) — AVDA is a private non-profit (501)(c)(3) organization founded in 1980 by the National Council of Jewish Women in Greater Houston. Its mission is to provide direct services to families that are victimized by domestic violence. You can learn more about the services AVDA provides, download a fact sheet, and access safety planning tips.
1001 Texas Avenue, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77002
The Response to Rape: Detours on the Road to Equal Justice — You can read the full text of the 1993 Senate Judiciary Committee report that led to the original passage of VAWA. The report has case studies, statistics, and state survey results.
Find a Lawyer in Houston for VAWA Help
Are you or your employee an immigrant victim or the parent of an alien victim of domestic abuse in Texas? You should know that you do not have to sacrifice you or your children’s personal safety because of fears of deportation.
The Law Office of Kathryn N. Karam, P.C. helps scores of clients in the Greater Houston area, including Bellaire, the Energy Corridor, Alief, Spring Branch, Pasadena, Cypress, Tomball, Spring, Klein, and Kingwood. You can have our Harris County immigration attorneys review your case by calling (832) 582-0620 to arrange an initial consultation.