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VAWA and the alternatives for immigrants who have been abused | Law Watch

Coleman Jackson, P.C. | Video Transcript of Watching Laws
Published May 21, 2021.

VAWA and the alternatives for immigrants who have been abused

Seeing Laws

  • A great welcome to our Law Watch viewers.
  • I’m Reyna Munoz. I’m the immigration legal assistant at Coleman Jackson, PC.; we’re located here in Dallas, Texas. Our law firm represents clients around the world in taxes, litigation, government contracts, and immigration.
  • This presentation is word for word from the Q&A session I had with the lawyer. Our topic today is: VAWA and the alternatives for immigrants who have been abused.
  • Attorney Coleman Jackson is the attorney at Coleman Jackson, P.C Other members are Yulissa Molina, Tax Attorney, Leiliane Godeiro, Legal Litigation Assistant, Mayra Torres, Public Relations Associate, and I, Reyna Munoz, Immigration Legal Assistant.

Lawyer Interview: Reyna Munoz

  • Question 1
  • Are we going to talk about a brief description and history about VAWA?

Lawyer: Coleman Jackson

Domestic abuse and violence is a very serious problem in America, not just immigrants.

Many people suffer emotional snubs, psychological abuse and physical violence at the hands of their loved ones and family members every day! Domestic abuse is absolutely terrible; this violence is simply uncivilized.

To address domestic violence against immigrants, the U.S. Congress first passed the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. This compassionate federal law contains protections and provisions that allow spouses and children abused by their U.S. citizen spouse or (USC) or legal permanent resident (LPR) or parent to file a self petition to obtain a green card without the help of their abuser. In fact, the abuser is not even notified of the self-request.

In addition, VAWA also allows parents abused by their U.S. citizen sons or daughters to make a “self-petition” to obtain a green card, without having to convince the abusive relative to file an immigrant petition on their behalf. VAWA is truly a confidential process; everything is kept secret and absolutely no cooperation from the abuser is needed or required.

VAWA’s immigration provisions are an attempt to correct a widespread situation, many immigrants are forced to remain in abusive relationships because their abusive relative can “hold them as ransom” because of their immigration status. For example, too often an abusive spouse will refuse to file a family visa petition to control an undocumented spouse. Either the abusive spouse will threaten to withdraw a petition or even call Homeland Security Department officials to deport the immigrant spouse if he or she tries to leave, resist abuse, or call the police.

In addition, under President Obama there was a reauthorization of VAWA that includes certain non-discrimination provisions. These non-discrimination provisions mean that applicants should now not be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

Also, the House recently passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act that renews and strengthens this law. This expansion provides protection to native American women and survivors of under-served communities and improves efforts to prevent intimate partner violence.

Lawyer Interview: Reyna Munoz

Why did Congress decide to pass VAWA?

Attorney Coleman Jackson

For the exact reasons mentioned a moment ago. Congress simply did not want U.S. immigration laws to be used as another weapon in an abuser’s arsenal to terrorize his own loved ones. Therefore, the United States Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, commonly known as “VAWA”, to allow a spouse or child in this uncivilized domestic situation to make a self-petition on their own, without having to rely on the abusive spouse or parent to file the immigrant visa application. Victims of abuse simply do not have to suffer in silence and endure the uncivilized behavior of their U.S. citizen or LPR relative. Again in 2005, Congress expanded these VAWA protections and provisions to allow parents of abusive U.S. citizens to also file their own petitions. VAWA is based on humanity!

Interview by: Reyna Munoz

What are some benefits that come with VAWA?

Lawyer: Coleman Jackson

VAWA offers self-petitioners the following types of benefits:

As long as the self-petition is approved, even if no adjustment request has been filed, VAWA’s petitioner can work legally in the United States and will not be deported during the months or years that may take for the petitioner’s priority date to become current.

VAWA self-petitioners can apply for a status adjustment in the United States, rather than having to leave the United States to process their visas at a consulate in the country of origin.

VAWA’s self-petitioner can receive many public benefits that are not available to other non-citizens.

And finally; The entire VAWA application process is completely confidential. VAWA’s confidential protections cannot be underestimated because many immigrants seeking VAWA have been emotionally, psychologically and physically harmed by their abuser. Many are very fragile at this time when they apply for VAWA protections; and most victims of immigrant abuse are away from their family, away from their friends and away from their natural social networks at home. They often feel alone; in fact, they are often alone. They left home to come here to get married and they’re Americans. VAWA is like an umbrella in the rain.

Interviewer: Reyna Munoz

Question 4:

Can only women apply for VAWA or can men and individuals of different sexual orientation also apply for protection and relief under the Violence against Women Act?

Lawyer interview: Coleman Jackson

The vast majority of victims of domestic violence are women in this country, if not around the world. However, it is important to note that men are sometimes victims of domestic violence. Sometimes women are abusers. Domestic violence is not limited to any particular gender. Therefore, VAWA immigration protections and provisions are available to abused husbands and wives, as well as to abused children and parents of any gender. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, several years ago when President Obama was in charge, Congress enacted additional VAWA provisions extending protections of acts of violence against women to eligible LGBT people and eligible Native Americans.

VAWA also protects children abused by USC or LPR parents. Let me point this out to be clear: even if the child was abused and the parent was not abused, the non-citizen parent may also qualify for VAWA, or if the parent was abused and the child was not abused, the child may also qualify. Simply put: Abused immigrant children can file a self-petition under VAWA.

Interviewer: Reyna Munoz

Question 5:

What are the requirements for self-requesting for VAWA?

Lawyer: Coleman Jackson

The spouse of the self-petition must prove that:

The abuser was (is) a permanent resident (LPR) or U.S. Citizen (USC)

The petitioner’s order is (or was) the spouse of the LPR or USC abuser, or the parent of a child who was abused by the LPR or USC spouse of the petitioner’ self-

The LPR or USC abused the self-petitioner during their marriage.

The marriage that forms the basis of self-petition was a marriage of good faith.

Either the petitioner resides in the United States, or if you live abroad, the LPR or USC abuser subjected the petitioner or your child to abuse in the United States or is an employee of the U.S. government or armed forces.

The self-petitioner has lived with the abuser.

The self-petitioner is a person of good moral character.

The attorney would like to clarify again how VAWA protections work when a child is involved. This is a very important point that I am about to make.  In some circumstances, an immigrant child of the abused spouse qualifies for status, even if the child was not abused, and also, in some circumstances, the parent of an abused child qualifies for status even if the parent themselves was not abused.

Interviewer: Reyna Munoz

Question 6

What behaviors qualify as “extreme or mistreated cruelty” for a victim to qualify for VAWA?

Lawyer: Coleman Jackson

USCIS may consider a wide range of abuser behaviors, such as:

Threatened with beating or terrorizing the victim;

Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking or hurting the person in any way;

Emotionally abuse of immigrants, such as insults at home or in public;

Sexual abuse or exploitation, including abuse or forcing the immigrant to have sex; or, forcing the immigrant into prostitution;

Threatened with taking the victim’s children or hurting children in any way;

Threatening to deport the victim, threatening to withdraw the family immigration petition, or threatening to hand over the immigrant to immigration authorities;

Exercise control over the immigrant, whether physical restrictions, emotional control or psychological control over the immigrant or their children. Actions and threats to control where the immigrant is going, what the immigrant does; how they dress and live and with whom they socialize and similar controlling behavior.

By force detained the immigrant or physically arrested the immigrant or otherwise restricted the immigrant’s free movement;

Participate in a series of acts that, on their own, would not normally constitute abuse; but together it demonstrates private and abusive and destructive behavior for the immigrant, whether emotionally, psychologically or physically;

Threatened or committed acts of violence against a third person in order to frighten the immigrant; such as abuse, neglect or neglect of minors.

The abusive and uncivilized behaviors I have mentioned are not exhaustive because the imagination and cruelty that people can exercise over others can have all kinds of intentions and show all kinds of human depravities. Immigrants seeking VAWA protection should seek advice from professionals working with victims of abuse. Violence in any form is uncivilized; everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.

Interviewer: Reyna Munoz

Question 7

Does the victim making the self-petition have to live in the United States to apply for VAWA?

Lawyer: Coleman Jackson

A petitioner must reside in the United States when they file the petition; unless there are some special conditions that I will talk about in more detail in a few minutes. A petitioner who recently moved to the United States may also be eligible. In other words; the time the immigrant is in the United States is not relevant as to whether he or she is eligible to apply for VAWA in the United States.

Now as for abused immigrants residing abroad at the time they apply for VAWA; The following non-citizens can apply for VAWA outside the country:

  1. The immigrant is married or married to the abusive spouse who is an employee of the U.S. government or member of the U.S. military, or
  2. The immigrant is married or married to the abusive spouse who subjected the petitioner’s or petitioner’s child to extreme aggression or cruelty in the United States.

VAWA’s statute requires that the immigrant have lived with the abuser at some point. But I must point out here that the law does not impose any time period rules on how long the petitioner must have lived with the abuser, nor does VAWA require the victim of  abuse to live with the abuser at the time the self petition is filed. Therefore, a petitioner can qualify even if the victim only lived with the abuser for a short time, or only in another country under the circumstances I just mentioned.

Interviewer: Reyna Munoz

Question 8

Aside from VAWA, are there other relief options for immigrants abused in U.S. immigration law?

Attorney Coleman Jackson

If there are other immigrant relief options, such as:

  1. Conditional Residency: Conditional residency means that the USC or LPR spouse filed a petition, the petition was approved, and the immigrant spouse actually received a conditional “green card” that lasts two years. In cases of conditional residence, the married couple must file a petition to eliminate the condition near the end of this two-year conditional residence period. Instead of enduring an abusive or harmful relationship during this period and waiting for your spouse to help file the joint petition, the conditional resident may have the option to leave the relationship and obtain a special “abused spouse waiver” to eliminate the condition. In the event that this self petition is granted, the abused immigrant would receive his/her permanent residence card. Like VAWA, the elimination of conditional residency status is humanitarian relief in which abused immigrants are not subjected to rampant abuse in a failed marital situation.
  2. Victim of crime/investigation or prosecution witness: The “U” visa: Abused men and women who do not qualify for VAWA (for example, because they are not legally married or their abusive spouse is not a USC or LPR) may be eligible for non-immigrant status or “U” visa which was a federal law enacted by the United States Congress around 2000. The U visa benefits victims of felonies who are willing to assist in a criminal investigation in the U.S. The U visa is not limited to domestic violence offences committed by LPR or USC spouses. The law does not lay down requirements on the status against the immigrant victim: the perpetrator may be a stranger or a family member, a citizen or an undocumented worker; the perpetrator could be a non-citizen visitor to the United States. Types of criminal offenses can range from sexual assault, physical assault, kidnapping, incest to many other types of felonies. The “U” visa provides temporary status and can lead to permanent residency.

However, another possible option for certain immigrants is the “T” visa, which is available to immigrants who were victims of felonies. Generally the person must have endured conditions of forced labour or been a minor immigrant forced into prostitution or other depraved sexual exploitation activity.

  1. Cancellation of domestic violence deportation under VAWA: Some qualifying immigrants may instead wish to apply for VAWA deportation cancellation because they are not eligible for self-petition, or because waiting for legal permanent residency will take too long. This could be the case when abused immigrants were married to an LPR. In that case, they must wait until the visa is available; which could take years in some cases. Non-eligible citizens who have been abused and who are in deportation for any reason may ask the immigration judge to cancel the deportation by VAWA.

Interviewer: Reyna Munoz

Those are all the questions for now. I want to thank the lawyer for educating us about VAWA and the alternatives for immigrants who have been abused. Our audience who wants to watch more videos like this should subscribe to our Youtube channel and our listeners who want to listen to a podcast like this should subscribe to our Legal Thoughts Podcast on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify or wherever they listen to their podcast. We are here in Dallas, Texas at 6060 North Central Expressway, Suite 620 Dallas, Texas 75206.

English calls: 214-599-0431 | Calls in Spanish: 214-599-0432. Portuguese calls: 214-272-3100.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to inform you about VAWA AND the alternatives for immigrants who have been abused.

Again, I’m Reyna Munoz, Immigration Legal Assistant with Coleman Jackson, P.C. a tax, litigation, government contract litigation, and immigration firm based here in Dallas, Texas.

This is the end of Law Watch for now; Share our Law Watch video with family and friends.

This has been a  word for word presentation from the Q&A session I had with the lawyer. I’m Reyna Munoz, Assistant Legal Of Coleman Jackson, P.C. Everybody be all right and take care.