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Held 'hostage' by husband

Published:Tuesday | January 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dear Mrs Walker-Huntington,

I am in a situation in which I need your advice. I met a young man in the United States about seven years ago and we started dating. I was visiting for the summer. I returned to Jamaica to continue school and we kept in contact daily. He came to Jamaica to visit me and I went to the States to see him.

I ended up getting pregnant for this man two years ago. We decided then I should stay in the US and have the baby and build a life. I had my son and everything was going good. He eventually said we should get married so I could work and return home to visit my family.

After we got married, things started taking a downward turn. He decided he was not going to help me in getting a green card. I don't know what to do and I am becoming frustrated. We still live together but I don't know how much longer this is going to be. I don't think he is cheating. I believe - based on all the negative stories he heard about people getting their papers and leaving or start behaving badly - he is afraid.

I heard that he said he knows I'm going to leave him when I get my papers. I have tried to let him know I have no reason to do that as I honour my marriage vows and, until it gets to a point where we can no longer fix our problems, I will be there with him and our son. I want to work legally. I want to help with my child, who is sick, and make my own money. What can I do?

Thank you.

- Name withheld

Dear Madam:

I am assuming that your husband is a US citizen. Since you came to the States with a visa and overstayed, your husband can file a petition to change your status. You would change from an expired visitor to that of a permanent resident.

If at the time of your adjustment-of-status interview, you are married for two years and your petition was approved, you would receive a 10-year green card. If, however, at the time of the interview you are married for less than two years, you would receive a conditional green card, valid for two years. At the end of the two years, you would be required to file a joint petition to remove the condition on your green card, showing United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you remained married to and lived with your spouse. In the event of a divorce before the two-year time limit, you would have to file a single petition to remove the condition on your green card, showing USCIS you lived with your spouse from the time of the grant of residency until the separation and divorce.

It is unfortunate that your husband appears to have some trust issues with you and your marriage. I suggest you seek counselling so that all the issues in your marriage can be addressed by an appropriate professional.

Yes. There are many instances of persons who enter into marriage solely for immigration purposes, unbeknown to their spouse and, once they receive their green cards, they leave the marriage. In your case, where there is a long-term relationship and a child involved you should attempt to alleviate your husband's fears.

Tied to your husband

If your husband does not file a petition to change your status, you are going to have some serious issues. You have overstayed your allotted time in the US for more than a year. If, at this point, you leave the US freely or are deported, you will not be able to return for 10 years - absent a hardship waiver. Additionally, in your situation, only your spouse can file to adjust your status to a permanent resident. In short, you are truly tied to your husband and you have a vested interest in getting him to see that your intentions are honourable.

Your only other alternative would be to file a Violence Against Women's Act (VAWA) self-petition. You could only do that if your husband's treatment were to be considered domestic abuse. Keep in mind that domestic abuse is not always physical. It can be emotional and psychological as well.

Give marriage counselling a try to see if you husband needs to work out any issues and, on your own, you should see a counsellor to evaluate whether your husband's treatment could amount to domestic abuse.

Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-AmZerican attorney who practices in Florida in the areas of immigration, family, corporate and personal injury law. She is a mediator, arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida. or