Domestic Violence Against Immigrant Spouses in the USA

by Life and Things Between  for Domestic Violence Awareness Month


It is common for women, or even men, of other nationalities who are married to a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident to find themselves in a dilemma. By this, I mean that these spouses may suffer domestic violence, abuse and/or battery and feel as if there is no option for them but to endure the ill treatment.

In order for an alien to qualify for a family-based immigration, a U.S citizen or lawful Permanent Resident must file a Petition for Alien Relative form with the U.S.C.I.S on the alien’s behalf. When, or even if, the petition is actually filed is strictly up to the relative petitioner.

Unfortunately, some people use their control of this process to abuse family members by threatening to report them to immigration authorities. As a result, most battered immigrants are afraid to report the abuse or their abuser.

The Good News

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) 1994

Passed by Congress in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows the spouses and children of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to self-petition for permanent legal immigration status. In order to protect the victims from their abusers, provisions of the VAWA allow certain battered immigrants (women or men) to file for immigration relief without their abusive relative’s assistance or even knowledge. Children of these self-petitioners also receive derivative benefits, meaning they can gain lawful permanent residence along with their parents.

Source: U.S. Citizenship for Dummies Magazine

More Information

Marriages to Abusive U.S. Spouses

If you are the battered or abused spouse or child (unmarried, under 21) of a U.S. citizen and he or she refuses to petition on your behalf, you can petition for yourself.

You must be physically inside the U.S. take advantage of this opportunity. Children between ages 21 and 25 can still petition if they can prove that the child abuse was at least one central reason for the filing delay.

You must also prove all of the following:

  • that you were either battered or subjected to extreme mental cruelty by the U.S. spouse during the marriage.
  • that you have good moral character
  • that you resided with your spouse or parent inside the U.S., or that you lived with the spouse, or parent (in the case of a child) inside of the U.S., or that you lived with the spouse or parent outside the U.S., and that the abuser is an employee of the U.S. government or Armed Forces, and
  • if you’re a spouse, that the marriage was entered into in good faith—that is, not just to get a green card.

USCIS recognizes that a wide range of behavior can constitute battery or extreme cruelty, such as threats, beatings, sexual use or exploitation, threats to deport the immigrant or turn him or her over to immigration authorities, forcible detention, or threatened or committed acts of violence against another person in order to mold the immigrant’s behavior.

Source: U.S.  Immigration Made Easy, by Llona Bray

Remember: If you are a victim of domestic violence, help is available to you through the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call toll free, 1-800-799-SAFE, 1-800-787-3224 for information about shelters, mental health care, including information about self-petitioning or lawful permanent residence.

Disclaimer: The Life and Thing Between does not hold itself out as a source of legal information. Please do not substitute this or any other legal information on this site for professional legal advice.