Recent times have created a new awareness and sensitivity to issues of domestic violence and offenses that are most frequently committed against women. Although the press in general has been focused on women, who fall victim to this type of abuse, domestic violence can be most severe and commonplace in the lives of immigrant women. Immigration law has historically ignored U.S. citizens or permanent residents who abuse their families. Immigrant women and children are easily targeted, since they rely completely on the citizen or resident as their basis for immigration status.
The “Violence Against Women Act” (VAWA) was passed in 1994. This Act contained several provisions which serve to deter and punish many crimes against women, including rape, stalking and domestic abuse. The VAWA, in conjunction with the Immigration and Nationality Act, allows the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, who is a person of good moral character and is otherwise eligible under certain sections, to “self-petition” for immigrant status by showing that
(1) the alien is residing in the U.S. and entered the marriage in good faith,
(2) the alien or a child of the alien has been battered or subject to “extreme cruelty” during the marriage and
(3) deportation would result in extreme hardship to the alien or child of the alien.
In previous weeks I have discussed the relief of suspension of deportation. A spouse or child who is a victim of domestic abuse is also eligible for suspension of deportation. In order to qualify the alien must be deportable under most grounds
(1) have been physically present in the U.S. for at least three years
(2) have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by a citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent
(3) be a person of good moral character and
(4) show that deportation would result in extreme hardship to the alien or alien’s parent or child.
The more recent 1996 Act continues this trend in protecting battered spouses and children with similar relief.
The 1996 Act also purports to impose limits on the number of cases that may be adjudicated each year. Included in these numerically-limited cases are cases involving battered women and children. Although these types of cases are emotionally very difficult for the victims, it is critical that they bring their situation forward so that the due relief may be granted.
Unfortunately, I have seen and handled many of these cases involving domestic abuse. If possible, it is important for these victims to document and write down the incidents of abuse as they are occurring and to report them to the proper authorities. As we are all aware, victims of abuse oftentimes fail to notify the authorities for many different reasons. If the authorities are not notified or a written record of the abuse is not prepared simultaneous to the abuse, the victim will still have relief available. The most important step is coming forward and admitting that the abuse is taking place. Because proper documentation as well as sensitivity are critical in these types of cases, it is essential to be represented by a competent and experienced immigration attorney.