No person should be expected to tolerate the pain, terror, and injustice of domestic violence. Sadly, many survivors are forced to remain in abusive situations out of fear—Fear that their attacker will abuse them further, fear of not being believed, and even fear of losing their immigration status in the United States. If you are in a similar situation, you are not alone. There are protections available under U.S. immigration law designed to keep you safe and help you build a life away from your abuser.
Our team of knowledgeable attorneys understands the urgency of these cases and we are passionate about providing legal advocacy to survivors of domestic violence and abuse. We will help guide you through this emotionally difficult and stressful process, ensuring that you submit the strongest application possible in order to achieve independence from your abuser. To learn more about how we can help, consider contacting an experienced VAWA immigration attorney at Diaz Law Firm at (626) 261-0402 today.
What Is the Violence Against Women Act?
Violence against women is a serious and pervasive problem. Recognizing the severity and prevalence of crimes such as domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault, the U.S. federal government passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994. This legislation was the first of its kind, representing a landmark step forward in the fight to end violence against women. After its passage in 1994, VAWA was reauthorized in 2000, 2005, 2013, and most recently in 2022.
Each reauthorization has expanded access to safety and support for gender-based violence survivors and has increased prevention efforts greatly. As a result of VAWA, legal and community-based responses to such violence have improved and the landscape for domestic violence and abuse survivors who formerly lived in silence has changed substantially. While incidents of gender-based violence in the United States have decreased since VAWA’s initial passage, there is still much to do to end violence against women.
This is particularly true in immigrant communities, where women are at a higher risk for intimate partner violence. Leaving behind friends and family may increase a woman’s dependence on their intimate partner. In some cases, a woman’s immigration status can be exploited by an abuser to create fear and prevent her from accessing necessary services. This highlights the importance of VAWA immigration and this area of our work at Diaz Law Firm.
What Is VAWA Immigration?
The Violence Against Women Act created several protections for victims of gender-based violence, including special routes to legal immigration status for certain abused noncitizens. In many cases, immigrant women who experience abuse at the hands of a spouse or family member rely on these relatives for their immigration status. Their abuser may be responsible for filing for them, and their own immigration status may be dependent on the immigration status of their abuser.
This poses a major problem for abused women who seek to leave a violent situation. VAWA immigration changed this dynamic by allowing victims of violence to file their own petitions without the involvement of their abuser. Many times, derivative status is also available for the children and parents of the victim. This presents a valuable opportunity for domestic violence victims to apply for immigration status on their own and escape their abusive situation.
What Protections Does VAWA Have in Place for Immigrants?
There are several protections for immigrants that have been put in place by the Violence Against Women Act. These protections include:
- Domestic violence survivors have the ability to self-petition for lawful status in the United States
- It is not necessary for survivors to file a police report when petitioning for lawful status
- Victims have the opportunity to obtain protective orders without fear of arrest due to immigration status
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not able to act on information provided solely by the abuser
- Cancellation of removal, a form of relief, prevents victims of abuse from being removed from the United States
What Is the VAWA Self-petition?
Under the Violence Against Women Act, the victims of abusive U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents have the ability to “self-petition” for lawful immigration status. This allows domestic violence survivors to petition without the cooperation, knowledge, or help of their abusive relatives. The process of submitting a self-petition is similar to filing a typical family-based immigration application but with certain additional requirements.
What Are the Requirements for VAWA Immigration?
To qualify for relief under VAWA, you must first prove that you have a qualifying relationship with your abuser. You may file a self-petition under VAWA immigration if you are the current, former, or intended spouse of a United States citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, child of a United States citizen or permanent resident, or parent of a U.S. citizen child who is over the age of 21.
In addition to having a qualifying relationship with an abusive U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, you must also meet the following requirements:
- You were married in good faith (if you are a self-petitioning spouse). This means that your marriage was legitimate, and not just for the purpose of obtaining a Green Card.
- You are eligible for lawful status under family-based immigration.
- You experienced battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident.
- You live with or lived with, your abusive family member.
- You are of good moral character, as described in 8 CFR 204.2(c)(1)(vii).
Unfortunately, we often see that people do not file a self-petition because they do not believe that they qualify for VAWA. Domestic violence and abuse take many different forms, including:
- Physical battery
- Threats of violence or coercion
- Sexual abuse or exploitation
- Verbal and/or emotional abuse
- Economic abuse
Furthermore, while the name of the Violence Against Women Act implies that this legislation is reserved for women, this is not the case. If you are a man who is in an abusive situation, you may qualify for VAWA immigration as well. An experienced attorney can provide more information about whether you qualify for relief under VAWA and guide you through the self-petition process.
How Long Is the Processing Time for VAWA Immigration?
The process for self-petitioning under VAWA begins by filing Form I-360. Once this form is filed, it may take over a year to process your petition. Generally, it takes the USCIS an average of sixteen to twenty-one months to process a VAWA self-petition. The USCIS provides more detailed estimates of case processing times on their website.
How Can an Attorney Help With the VAWA Immigration Process?
While hiring an attorney to help with the VAWA immigration process is not required by law, the assistance of an attorney may drastically improve your chances of a successful outcome. Filing a VAWA self-petition is a complex and extensive process, requiring a great deal of paperwork and evidence. Unfortunately, you must convince the USCIS that you qualify for this special form of relief, and doing so involves more than completing a few forms and waiting for approval. It requires careful preparation and attention to detail, as well as a great deal of documentation that may be difficult to obtain.
Moreover, the application process can take months (or even years), and the smallest mistake can impact your case significantly. For victims of domestic violence, time is of the essence. Having an attorney by your side to guide you through the process can help you avoid errors and ensure that your application is as strong as possible so that you can secure relief for your case.
Contact an Experienced Attorney at Diaz Law Firm Today
If you have been subjected to abuse by a United States citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, you may feel trapped and unsure of where to turn for help. Under immigration law, there are options available to you to gain independence from your abuser and also remain in the United States. Our team of compassionate and experienced VAWA immigration attorneys understands how to handle these delicate issues. We will work diligently to help you obtain lawful immigration status, ensuring that you are safe and protected at every step of the process. To speak with us about your case, consider contacting Diaz Law Firm at (626) 261-0402 today.