f you think you are or might be the victim of domestic abuse, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is an important piece of legislaton that may apply to your case, providing the ability for victims of domestic abuse to self-petition for permanent residence, removal of conditions on permanent residence, or naturalization. VAWA was designed to prevent abused spouses from being forced to remain in an abusive relationship to wait out the processing time of their pending petition for immigration benefits.
It is an all too common situation: U.S. citizen and alien spouse meet, get married, and then apply for permanent resident. Absent a VAWA determination, the District Adjudicator Officer will insist that both husband and wife be present at the adjustment interview or will deny the petition. This has the potential to lead abused spouses to feel locked-in and endure all sorts of humiliation, threats, physical and emotional violence, and outright blackmail out of fear of abandoning their permanent residence application.
IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY! IF YOU MEET CERTAIN REQUIREMENTS, YOU CAN STILL PRESERVE YOUR ABILITY TO PETITION FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCE AND ESCAPE THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP.
Studies have shown that in abusive relationships there is a well documented “cycle of violence” consisting of an escalation of threats, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and ultimately physical violence upon the victim. This often is followed by a period of regret by the abuser, apologies, a period of normal behavior, leading to renewed threats and increased levels of mental and physical abuse. In these cases, it is often best to break up the relationship before this vicious circle escalates to its extreme consequences. If you throw into the mix immigration, long pending green card petitions, and the perceived need of the victim to remain with the abuser, you can envision the abused spouse actually forcing herself (or himself) to remain in the very situation that he or she should escape.
This does not mean that all victims of domestic violence have a free ticket to a green card. The VAWA petitioner still has to show that he or she was abused, and that he or she entered into a good faith marriage not solely for immigration purposes. However, if you are or think you might be a victim of domestic abuse, and you have a pending petition or application for immigration benefits, we urge you to contact a skilled immigration lawyer to assess the possibility of escaping the abuse while still maintaining the ability to keep the immigrant petition alive.
PLEASE NOTE: NONE OF THE ABOVE CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. IF THE VAWA SELF-PETITION IS NOT GRANTED, YOU WILL STILL NEED YOUR SPOUSE OR YOUR IMMEDIATE RELATIVE PETITION WILL BE DENIED. PRIOR TO ACTING BASED ON THE ABOVE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONSULT AN EXPERIENCED IMMIGRATION LAWYER.
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