The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) offers the opportunity for abused husbands, wives or children of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to petition for their legal residence in the United States without the knowledge of the abuser.
Immigrant women who marry U.S. citizens or legal residents are eligible to apply for legal immigration status, yet their abusive husbands refuse to help them and even hold their lack of immigration documents as a threat –‘if you dare complain about the abuse, I’ll call immigration on you.’ Women stuck in such abusive relationships are often isolated and indigent and live in fear of being deported and separated from their children. It takes tremendous courage on their part to contact Las Americas and seek a better future for themselves and their children.
‘Mariana’ was brought into the United States by her parents when she was young. Although she did not have documents, she went to school here and married the man of her dreams when she was 17. The relationship produced two children but it was never a happy home. They separated but they shared custody of the children. One day, Mariana’s ex-husband came to her apartment and fell into a jealous rage because she had a male friend over. He started hitting her, pulling her hair and throwing her against a wall. Then he grabbed a knife and stabbed her multiple times in the chest. As he ran out, he told her, “Look what you made me do.” Mariana survived the attack and pressed charges against her ex-husband. With the help of Las Americas obtained a U-Visa for victims of crime and a work permit in about a year. She still fears her husband but she feels safe in a country that protected her from him.
Las Americas has currently about 70 open cases like Mariana’s. Through the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, we can request legal permanent residency status and even suspend deportation proceedings for battered spouses and children, without the help or knowledge of the abuser. These cases are long and complicated as the client must be able to demonstrate she has suffered physical abuse or mental cruelty at the hand of a U.S. citizen or legal resident in the United States; that she has lived with the abuser and currently reside in the United States; that she has evidence of good moral conduct and that she married in good faith. Other situations also apply as each case is different.
In some cases, like Mariana’s, a different visa called the U-Visa for undocumented victims of crimes who cooperate with the police, can provide an alternative for victims of sexual assault and domestic battery who are not eligible for protection under VAWA. Immigrants, including women and children, who have experienced human trafficking can also apply for a U-Visa.