Immigration Corner | Dealing with abuse
Dear Mrs Walker-Huntington,
I'm seeking advice on behalf of a relative who has been in the US since 2003. She went to the US on a hotel work programme and was living in New Hampshire. The following year, she got married, and her husband started the filing process. During this time, however, her husband got increasingly abusive and after putting up with him hitting her for a while, she had had enough and left. At this point in the filing process, she did her fingerprinting, and when she called to find out about the process, she was told they could only give information to the person who started the process. She tried contacting her husband but to no avail, so at this point, she is not sure what her status is and what she should do.
Some years ago, she found out that her husband was using her as a tax claim and she reported the matter because she didn't want to be involved in tax fraud seeing that she had been filing her taxes in a different state. As far as she knows, she's still married, and this year will be 13 years. She has a copy of her marriage certificate as well as the receipt from the fingerprinting and biometrics. She has been told that she needs to find an immigration attorney, but she is unable to afford the legal fees.
Your friend has found herself in a situation in which many immigrants become entangled. They enter a marriage in good faith to a US citizen and the spouse becomes abusive to the immigrant and/or their children. It is important to note that abuse is not only physical, but also emotional and psychological. Equally important is that those immigrants who are in abusive relationships need to protect themselves above all else.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed by the United States Congress in 1994 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton and has provisions for battered immigrant women and families. While certain provisions of the VAWA are supposed to be revisited by the new American administration, the provisions of the VAWA that apply to immigrants are permanently part of the Immigration and Nationality Act and do not require congressional reauthorisation.
The VAWA allows some battered spouses, parents, and children of US citizens and spouses and children of permanent residents to apply for residency on their own without the abuser's help or knowledge. The familial relationship between the abuser and the victim has to be demonstrated, as well as the abuse. If the relationship is that of spouse, you must show that you lived with your spouse and if not, why not.
The process is complicated, and that is why an immigration attorney is highly recommended. There might be non-profit immigrant organisations where your relative resides who might offer free or reduced-fee legal services to help battered immigrants such as her. She should at least consult with an immigration attorney to find out what has happened with her case. It is possible that her case is dormant or may have been denied and she placed in removal (deportation) proceedings without her knowledge. It is possible to be deported even in absence.
It is very important for persons such as your relative who have been in the United States for many years in unlawful status, and after previous involvement with US Citizenship and Immigration Services, to seek legal counsel to ensure that they have not been deported. Besides relief from the VAWA, your relative may also be able to remarry and proceed with a new application; or if she has adult US citizen children, they may be able to petition for her residency.
- Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal, and personal- injury law in Florida. She is a mediator, arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida. email@example.com