Total Articles 20
Battered Immigrant Women Face Barriers That Can Cost Lives
During the course of her marriage to an abusive man, Ms. Song , who immigrated to the U.S. after marrying her now deceased husband, was frequently told by him that he would prevent her from getting her “green card,” or legal permanent residence, and that she would get sent back to her native country. Comments like these are commonly made to immigrant women married to perpetrators of domestic violence who are U.S. citizens or have legal immigration status and who use their power to control their spouses’ immigration status along with threats of deportation to intimidate their wives. Batterers who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents also frequently intimidate their immigrant wives by telling them that if they try to leave their marriage they can lose custody of their children because they are not citizens. As a result, battered immigrant women have a harder time seeking help, calling the police to report abuse, and leaving abusive relationships.
Additional barriers for battered immigrant women in seeking and accessing help is their limited English-language skills, lack of knowledge about U.S. laws and domestic violence victim services, lack of financial independence, and lack of a support system or network. Together, all of these barriers make it extremely difficult for battered immigrant women to access the safety and support services they need to address their experiences of violence. In fact, research studies have shown that compared to other battered women in the U.S., battered immigrant women have fewer resources, stay in abusive relationships longer, and sustain more severe physical and emotional abuse.
Violence Against Women Act Responds to Battered Immigrant Women’s Needs
In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed, becoming the first federal law passed in the U.S. to help end domestic violence. VAWA’s overarching goals are to increase protections for battered women in the justice system and to increase cooperation and coordination between domestic violence service providers and the criminal and civil justice systems. Importantly, VAWA recognizes that to stop domestic violence, all victims need to be able to access protection and assistance regardless of their immigration status. Thus, VAWA provides relief for eligible battered immigrants by allowing them to become legal permanent residents without the cooperation or knowledge of their abusers, who must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Eligible battered immigrants include: 1) a battered spouse currently or formerly married to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. A battered spouse may file a self-petition even after her marriage has ended if her husband died within the two years prior to her filing the self-petition or if the marriage ended in divorce related to the abuse within the two years prior to filing. 2) The parent of a child who has been abused by the U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse of the parent. The self-petitioning parent does not have to have been abused to file a self-petition. 3) An unmarried child under the age of 21 who has been abused by a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident parent.
In 2000, VAWA was reauthorized and its legal protections expanded to offer relief for immigrant victims of sexual assault, human trafficking, and other violent crimes who agree to cooperate in criminal investigations or prosecutions. VAWA was reauthorized again in 2005 with additional protections for immigrant victims of child abuse or incest as well as immigrant victims of elder abuse by U.S. citizen adult sons or daughters.
Immigration Relief for Battered Immigrant Women
Under VAWA, a battered immigrant woman can become a legal permanent resident without the cooperation or knowledge of her abuser by filing a self-petition, which must be approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When a battered immigrant woman’s self-petition is approved and she is an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, she may immediately apply to adjust her status to legal permanent resident. Immediate relatives are those who are spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, or parents of U.S. citizens. If a battered immigrant files a self-petition but is not the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, the applicant must wait (from two to 10 years) to receive an immigrant visa number in order to apply to adjust her status.
For the purpose of applying for public benefits, an applicant who meets all of the basic requirements of filing a self-petition and provides some supporting evidence can be considered a “qualified alien” and become eligible to apply for public benefits. Also, if an applicant’s self-petition is approved and she does not have legal immigration status in the U.S., the USCIS can decide not to begin deportation proceedings against her. She may then be eligible to receive work authorization.
Immigrant women who file a self-petition as a battered spouse must fulfill the following seven requirements; she must:
• establish that she is or was married to the abuser,
• prove that the abuser is or was a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident,
• currently reside in the U.S. (or she may file a self-petition from abroad if her abusive spouse is an employee of the U.S. government, is a member of the uniformed services, or subjected the spouse to battery or extreme cruelty in the U.S.),
• prove that she resided with the abuser at one time,
• present credible evidence that she endured battery or extreme cruelty during the marriage,
• demonstrate that she has good moral character, and
• demonstrate that she entered the marriage in good faith.
Benefits of Self-petitioning under VAWA
The ability of battered immigrant women to file self-petitions to become legal permanent residents is a critical tool for battered women who fear seeking help or reporting abuse from their spouse because of the threat of losing their ability to stay in the U.S. lawfully. For KAN-WIN clients, the ability to self-petition has enabled many women to free themselves from abusive relationships and work towards independent, violence-free lives. Ms. Song, mentioned above, filed her self-petition several years ago with assistance from KAN-WIN and finally became a U.S. citizen this year. Today, she lives independently, is healthy and volunteers at KAN-WIN when she can.