The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA is a fairly complex area of immigration law, but simply put, relief may be available if a person (man or woman) can show the following:
- He or she is married to – or is an unmarried child under 21 of – a person who has married a United States Citizen or Permanent Resident*, or, in some cases, is the parent of a United States Citizen;
- He or she has a valid marriage and resided with the spouse (evidence might include shared bills, shared finances, children born to the couple, and statements of people who can attest to the validity of the marriage), or had a recognized parent-child relationship;
- He or she was subjected to abuse (physical abuse or extreme cruelty) at the hands of that relative; and
- He or she can demonstrate good moral character.
If these conditions are met, the victim of the abuse can file a petition for permanent residence under VAWA. In a spousal context, a filing is even possible where the couple was divorced, as long as the case is filed prior to the second anniversary of the divorce. Also, if the victim is in immigration proceedings, there are defenses against removal as long as certain conditions are met.
As I mentioned, this is a very technical law, so if you believe that you or someone you know qualifies, it’s wise to consult with an immigration lawyer. For example, if the marriage was a bigamous marriage, it’s STILL possible to seek relief under VAWA! There are other avenues for people who might not qualify under the above-mentioned criteria, but who are victims of abuse, so be sure to talk with someone about this – if for no other reason than to seek help.
Another consideration is this: if a person who has the possibility of a VAWA process is already working with an immigration lawyer for a family petition, that person should seek out another lawyer for a consultation. This is because, in joint petitions, the lawyer is representing both husband and wife, and cannot advise one to do something that would affect the other negatively – that is, the lawyer could not help in a conflict of interest situation.
Unfortunately, some people use the immigration process to subjugate others. I've seen cases in Boston where a citizen or permanent resident marries a foreign person, and then doesn’t file for the that person, so as to foster dependence – and abuses the spouse, and holds the threat of not filing over the spouse’s head “don’t tell anyone, or I won’t file for you” or, “if you tell anyone, I’ll report you to immigration” or “if you tell anyone, I’ll withdraw my petition for you (and/or your children).” With VAWA, the victim of abuse finally has a shield. Again, if you or anyone you know is in this situation, first, ensure safety, then seek a consultation with an immigration attorney.
*(or of a person eligible for relief under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966; the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 1988 (HRIFA); or the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA))