Chicago Law Office of Christine Contreras

Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence, You Have Options!

Despite all the progress that has been made in addressing crimes of domestic violence, these types of crimes are still some of the most underreported. This is even more true for instances of domestic violence in which the suffering party depends on the abuser to obtain their legal residency in the United States. That need leaves victims with few choices of where to turn.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) attempts to correct this dangerous imbalance by giving victims of domestic violence another option. It allows victims to apply for their own legal status, thereby cutting the connection with the abusing party. However, this can only be done if the abuser is a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident. This is done via Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. The VAWA act applies to victims of abuse by:

  • A United States citizen spouse or former spouse
  • A United States citizen parent
  • A United States citizen son or daughter
  • A lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or former spouse
  • An LPR parent

Key to VAWA is that you can self-petition without the knowledge or consent of the abusive family member. A person who files a VAWA self-petition is generally known as a VAWA self-petitioner. If your self-petition is approved and you meet other eligibility requirements, you may be eligible to apply to become a lawful permanent resident. For more information, see the USCIS resources on Battered Spouse, Children & Parents and VAWA Questions and Answers.

Also, as of late last year, a new rule states that you can apply for VAWA protection even if you divorced the abusing party up to two years before your application. In this case you will need to demonstrate a connection between the termination of the marriage and the abuse.

Form I-360 Does Not Itself Grant Legal Permanent Resident Status

It is worth it to note that the self-petition itself does not give permanent legal resident status to the applicant. Instead, it grants temporary rights such as:

  • Work authorization
  • Deferred action
  • Approved immigration petition

These extensions, however, enable the VAWA petitioner to become self-sufficient while he or she goes through the standard permanent residency application via form Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Each individual case will be assessed for possible grounds of inadmissibility to determine if permanent residency is possible.

If you are the victim of abuse, or if you know someone who needs extra encouragement to separate from the abuser and secure their own legal status, please get in touch with me right away. We are passionate about working on these cases because they’re so life-changing for the petitioners!