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Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Petitions

There are many issues that arise for families experiencing domestic violence, and if a child or spouse is a foreign national there are additional considerations to be taken into account because of the vulnerability of their status. For urgent assistance call 911, but beware that contacting the police can have unintended consequences. For example the perpetrator and/or victim of the violence may be arrested and, if either party is out of status, such person could be turned over to ICE and placed in removal proceedings or deported. Thus, sometimes it is better to call a shelter or find other alternatives, such as leaving to stay with a friend or family member. A local shelter in Prince William County is ACTS/Turning Points: 703-221-4951. Safety planning suggestions are part of our emergency planning information located on this website.

Immigrants First has extensive experience and training in working with victims of domestic violence, both in safety planning and representing immigration cases with domestic violence issues. For persons who are abused children, spouses or parents of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents, relief is available through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) petition. Instead of relying on an abusive family member to file on the abused person’s behalf, it is possible for the abused to file for themselves — self petition — via form I-360 with USCIS. Although VAWA refers to women, the relief is available regardless of gender, gender identification or sexual orientation. VAWA relief is an additional and/or alternative form of relief to the U Visa for victims of domestic violence.

VAWA Requirements for a Self-Petitioning Spouse

The requirements for a self-petitioning spouse are:

  • Qualifying spousal relationship:
    • Marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser (LPR); or
    • Marriage to the abuser was terminated by death or a divorce (related to the abuse) within the two years prior to filing the petition; or
    • The USC/LPR spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within two years prior to filing a petition due to an incident of domestic violence; or
    • Belief in legality of marriage to abusive U.S. citizen or LPR spouse but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of bigamy of abusive spouse
  • Have suffered battery/extreme cruelty by USC or LPR spouse:
    • Abused by your U.S. citizen or LPR; or
    • Child has been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by U.S. or LPR spouse
  • Entered into the marriage in good faith, not solely for immigration benefits
  • Have resided with your spouse
  • A person of good moral character

If the immigrant is a conditional resident due to the filing of lawful permanent residency through marriage, the filing is within two years of marriage, and the conditional resident has suffered battery or extreme cruelty, the resident may file to remove conditions without the abusive spouse’s participation via one or all of the following waivers: good faith marriage with a divorce, battered spouse waiver and/or demonstration of extreme hardship.

CAUTION: Be aware that in certain jurisdictions where local police cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), such as Prince William County, VA and many other jurisdictions, taking action that involves law enforcement or the judicial system, including filing police complaints or getting restraining orders, may result in the abusive spouse or parent coming into the custody of ICE and/or their immigration status being jeopardized. Further, divorce can greatly impact the legal status of a person who has obtained or is in the process of obtaining lawful permanent residence through a USC or LPR spouse. And domestic violence, as well as violation of a protective order, is a removable offense. Speak to our firm in situations where a spouse or other family member is an immigrant and has any issues with domestic violence before taking legal action.

International child abduction is a rising phenomenon and has become especially prevalent in families where a parent is a foreign national and the marriage is deteriorating.

If a parent has threatened to take a child or children out of the United States, it is important to take the following steps:

  • Register the children with the Department of State’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) (available only for USC children under 18).
  • If the children have dual nationality, contact the embassy of their other country of citizenship, alert them to the possible abduction, and request that a passport not be issued to the child.
  • Keep children’s passports in a safe and secret place. Alert schools, churches and the police of the situation. Let child care providers know that the child is not to be released to anyone without the custodial parent’s authorization.
  • Teach children how and when to call home.
  • Find out if the foreign national parent’s country of origin is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
  • If the spouses are in the process of divorce and a custody dispute, petition the court for safeguards that are appropriate to protect the children from abduction and do not agree to joint custody with the threatening parent. If joint custody is issued, the order should state clearly the child’s residential arrangements so that future enforcement will be possible.

If children have already been abducted by a foreign national parent, take the following actions:

  • File a missing persons report immediately. Ask the police to enter the children’s description into the National Crime Information Center Missing Persons File.
  • Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-843-5678 or missingkids.com
  • Contact the State Department, Office of Children’s Issues and request assistance. Go to travel.state.gov and download a copy of the booklet International Child Abduction.
  • File for custody and file criminal charges. Consider a tort action for wrongful removal, retention, and concealment of a child.
  • Contact the FBI and ask that they notify INTERPOL (US National Central Bureau – INTERPOL (1-800-743-5630)) to provide immediate assistance in stopping the abduction.
  • Contact state, local and federal offices of victims of crime (OVC): www.ovc.gov
  • Contact Project Hope, a national support network of parents who have experienced abductions: 1-800-306-6311.
  • Contact the State and Federal Parent Locator Service: 202-401-9267.
  • Once the children are returned, counseling for the U.S.-based spouse and the children is highly recommended.

If someone is leaving their home due to domestic violence, they should take the following documents or make copies (originals can be mailed back at a later date):

  • Birth certificates of the person, spouse, and all children
  • Passports of the person, spouse, and children (if copying passports, copy every single page of each passport)
  • Immigration documentation of any kind, including past filings, employment authorization cards, and green cards for family members
  • Marriage and divorce certificates
  • Family and wedding photographs, wedding invitations, and other evidence of a good faith marriage
  • Medical records, police reports, restraining orders — any evidence documenting abuse, including photographs of property damage and physical injury
  • Proof of joint residency with abusive spouse: bank statements, bills, etc.
  • Address book, important phone numbers, and correspondence
  • Bank cards, check books, money, and keys to safe deposit boxes, home, and car
  • Leases, mortgages, wills, and other important legal documentation

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