International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women; VAWA and U.S. Immigration Laws for Victims of Domestic Abuse

Say No Unite ImageNovember 25, 2013 is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Here are just a few of the alarming statistics that underscore the importance of recognizing such a day and taking part in ending violence against women. From the United Nations:

  • 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime.
  • 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world today have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting.
  • Worldwide, up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16.
  • Up to 7 in 10 women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.

In 2008, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, aimed at intensifying action and awareness to end violence against women and girls. The UNiTE campaign's goals include raising public awareness and increasing political efforts and resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls worldwide.

Unite BannerLast year, the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign proclaimed the 25th of every month as Orange Day, implemented to highlight issues and increase activism efforts throughout the year relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls. Today, in addition to being the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, November 25th kicks off the UNiTE campaign's "16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence," with the goal of inspiring global action to "Orange the World in 16 Days." In the 16 days from November 25th to December 10th, people worldwide are encouraged to support the campaign by wearing orange, spreading awareness through social media and other means, and initiating their own initiatives to prevent and end violence against women and girls.

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If you did not know about the significance of November 25th and did not wear your orange today, you can still do your part. Thanks to the UNiTE campaign and the efforts of its supporters globally, you will have your chance during the 16 Days campaign and again on the 25th of every month. Do what you can to spread awareness on those days, and others, as the victims suffer daily.

VAWA and U.S. Immigration Laws for Victims of Domestic Abuse:

U.S. immigration laws provide special measures for victims of domestic abuse under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The INA carves out special provisions for victims of domestic abuse. The provisions treat women and men equally, and apply in areas such as waivers of inadmissibility and removability, applications for permanent resident status (green card), certain other forms of relief in removal (deportation) proceedings. For example, as a battered spouse, child, or parent, certain foreign nationals may self-petition for permanent resident status without the assistance of the U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser. By allowing this, U.S. immigration laws give victims the ability to seek safety and independence from their abusers, who are not notified about the applications.

In the context of filing for permanent resident status as a self-petitioning battered or abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, a foreign national will need to submit to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. The Form I-360 requires a filing fee of $405, but that fee is waived if filing as a battered or abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

A foreign national may self-petition if he or she:

  • Is currently the spouse or child of an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident;
  • Is eligible for immigrant classification based on that relationship;
  • Is now residing in the U.S. or has resided in the U.S. with the citizen or permanent resident abuser in the past;
  • Has been battered by or has been the subject of extreme cruelty by:
    • The citizen or permanent resident spouse during marriage, or is the parent of a child who has been battered by or has been the subject of extreme cruelty perpetrated by the abusive citizen or permanent resident spouse during their marriage;
    • The citizen or permanent resident parent while residing with that parent;
  • Is a person of good moral character, as defined by immigration law;
  • Is a person whose removal or deportation would result in extreme hardship to the self-petitioner, or to his or her child if he or she is a spouse; and
  • Entered into marriage to the citizen or permanent resident abuser in good faith, if filing as a spouse.

It is important to document the abuse in what ways are available, such as medical records, mental health records, photographs, police reports/statements, court records, and affidavits/letters from the victim, witnesses, and others with knowledge of the abuse such as school officials, clergy, medical personnel, social workers, and other social service agency personnel. Additional documentation is required to support the I-360 Petition, including:

  • Evidence of the abuser's U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status;
  • Marriage and divorce decrees, birth certificates, or other evidence of the legal relationship to the abuser;
  • Documentation showing shared residence with the abuser;
  • Documentation showing current residence in the U.S.;
  • Evidence of extreme hardship that would result if the self-petitioner were removed (deported) from the U.S.;
  • If the self-petitioner is more than 14 years old, his or her affidavit of good moral character accompanied by a local police clearance, State-issued criminal background check, or similar report from each locality or State in the U.S. or abroad in which the self-petitioner has resided for 6 or more months during the 3 years immediately preceding the filing of the I-360; and
  • If filing as a spouse of the abuser, proof that the marriage was entered in good faith. (E.g., evidence of shared residence and joint assets).

The VAWA provisions are vital aspects of U.S. immigration laws, protecting and empowering victims of abuse by citizens or residents, who no doubt use "immigration status" as a device of abuse, intimidation, and control. Through the special provisions, victims of domestic abuse can stand on their own to obtain immigration relief and benefits in the country.

*The above article is for informational purposes only and does not serve as legal advice. If you have questions about VAWA or other areas of U.S. immigration, contact an experienced immigration attorney.