Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA)

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted by Congress in 1994 in response to the disturbing fact that thousands of spouses and children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR) were staying in abusive relationships because they were dependent on their spouse or parent to petition them for permanent resident status (green card). VAWA provides a safe haven for these individuals by allowing them to escape these abusive relationships and to file an immigrant petition on their own behalf.  These petitions may be filed without the knowledge or assistance of the abuser.

Is Your Spouse (or Parent) Using Your Immigrant Status to Control You?

In a perfect world, you marry a kind, loving spouse who happily petitions you for a green card.  But as we all know, we do not live in a perfect world.  What if your spouse is physically and / or emotionally abusive? What if he – or she – is using your lack of valid immigration status against you?  Sadly, this scenario is more common than most people think. Fortunately, immigration law offers some protections to deal with such a situation.


An applicant under VAWA will have to prove abuse in either of the following ways:

Battery: Physical violence you suffer at the hands of your spouse or parent. This may include pushing, slapping, being forced to engage in sex acts, etc.

Extreme cruelty: Non-physical abuse inflicted upon you by your spouse or parent in an effort to control you. This may include acts of humiliation, or threats to divorce you, report you to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or physically harm you. Extreme cruelty can also include preventing you from having contact with family, and withholding food or money as a form of punishment.

If you are unable to effectively assist law enforcement due to disability or your age (under age 16), a parent or guardian may provide information and assistance on your behalf.

When Can A Self-Petition Be Filed

The battered spouse or child may file their self-petition during the underlying marriage, or within two years of the marriage ending through death or divorce.  However, a VAWA petition will be denied if the self-petitioner re-marries before filing, or after filing but before the petition is approved. Remarriage after the self-petition has been approved will not affect the validity of the approved self-petition.


If the abusive spouse/parent had filed an immigrant visa petition on behalf of the battered spouse/child, the priority date can be transferred to the self-petition. This can be helpful for spouses or children of lawful permanent residents who face a long wait for the availability of their immigrant visa in their particular visa category.


If you are ineligible to apply for VAWA benefits for any reason, you may still have other options.  For instance, if you never actually married your abusive “spouse,” perhaps you will qualify for a ‘U’ visa.

Proving Abuse

It is crucial to gather any and all pertinent evidence that will support your request. Claiming domestic abuse and proving domestic abuse are two entirely different things. To prove that your spouse or parent committed acts of battery or extreme cruelty against you, it is essential to provide as much evidence as possible. In addition to a well-written personal statement, the following information can be of immense benefit to your case:

Police reports

Medical records

Affidavits from social workers

Affidavits from school personnel

Affidavits from anyone who can support your claim

Unfortunately, this evidence is often not available.  The abusive spouse or parent is not likely to assist you in providing necessary documents or by admitting their actions.  For this reason, the applicant’s personal declaration becomes extremely important.  This may be the evidence possible!  It is absolutely critical that the declaration be detailed, persuasive, and easy to read and understand.  As such, applying for a waiver without a skilled immigration attorney is never recommended.

Reeves Immigration Law Group – Full-Service Immigration Law Firm

No one should suffer through an abusive relationship.  Undocumented immigrants are no exception. If you are in the U.S. and hoping that your spouse or parent will petition you for a green card, you have options besides staying in an abusive relationship.  Do not allow your abusive spouse or parent to jeopardize your right to remain in the U.S.  The skilled legal team at Reeves Immigration Law Group can help. Our compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys can help you get to safety and get you a green card as well.  Don’t go through this painful time alone. Contact Reeves Immigration Law Group today for a confidential consultation about your case.

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