Democrats in Congress Bring the Violence Against Women act, Which can Impact Immigration Cases, for Reauthorization

girls sitting in field

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) is a federal law that provides for additional resources for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes committed against women, including immigration provisions protecting people who may lack legal status but also need protection from an abusive spouse, parent, or child. After two renewals of the law in 2000 and 2005, it is up for reauthorization again in 2012.

Several Democratic Senators brought VAWA up for renewal again on Thursday, March 15, in the midst of an already-charged political climate. With debates over issues like insurance coverage of contraception dominating the news in recent weeks, this is either a very opportune time to bring up this issue, or a very bad time. It is important to note, however, that VAWA offers important protections to immigrants who may have a valid claim to a green card or visa, but who cannot obtain one because of a bad domestic situation.

VAWA authorized the expenditure of $1.6 billion towards law enforcement efforts to improve the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It also requires defendants who are convicted of a violent domestic crime to immediately pay restitution to their victim, and it allows civil claims against alleged abusers. The law provides funding for community programs, victim assistance services, and legal aid programs. It offers protection to victims who face eviction from their homes because of domestic violence issues.

In the immigration system, VAWA establishes a procedure for spouses, children, or parents of United States citizens or legal permanent residents to obtain an immigrant visa without the other person’s involvement. Normally, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident must petition on behalf of their relative in order to obtain an immigrant visa, and they must sign off on an application to obtain a green card. The VAWA procedures are designed to protect the immigrant from the abusive relative.

A petition made under VAWA by an abused spouse may include the spouse’s children under the age of 21, whether or not the children are themselves victims of abuse. A parent of a child who has been abused by another parent who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident may petition for their child. A parent who has been the victim of abuse by a U.S. citizen son or daughter may also petition for benefits under VAWA.

A common criticism of VAWA overall is that domestic violence affects both men and women, but the law only addresses itself to violence against women. The language used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in its descriptions of VAWA procedures tends to be gender-neutral, describing the benefits as applying to any “battered spouse, children & parents.” Any immigrant who has been subjected to domestic violence by their citizen or permanent resident relative may claim VAWA benefits.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people understand and navigate the U.S. immigration system, which includes the ever-changing politics of our immigration laws. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us through our website or at (800) 625-3404.

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Expedited Advanced Parole Travel Document Requests (Form I-131), Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, April 7, 2011
New Immigration Application and Petition Fees, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, February 21, 2011
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