the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passes in 1994,
only an U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), also
known as a green card holder, could petition for a spouse’s
immigration. Under the old law, battered immigrant women
married to citizens or LPRs had two immigration choices: stay
with their abusive partners in order to qualify for LPR status,
or leave their abusers and risk deportation.
The battered immigrant women provision of the VAWA provides
more options to victims by allowing them to self-petition for
an immigrant visa without the assistance or consent of a citizen
or LPR abuser.
A victim of domestic violence who wishes to self-petition
for herself and her children under the VAWA must satisfy several
criteria. These are adapted from “Documentary Requirements
for VAWA Cases”, Ayuda, Inc. (1998).
The petitioner must prove that she:
- Is currently the spouse or child of an abusive U.S. citizen
- Is eligible for immigrant classification based on that
- Is currently residing in the U.S.
- Has previously lived in the U.S. with the abusive citizen
- Has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by either
the citizen or LPR spouse, or the parent during the marriage,
or is the parent of a child who has been battered or subjected
to extreme cruelty by the citizen or LPR during the marriage.
- Is a person of good moral character.
- Is a person whose deportation would result in extreme
hardship to herself, or to her child, and…
- Entered into the marriage with the citizen or LPR on good
While the legislation allows some battered immigrant women
more options than they would have had under traditional immigration
legislation and regulations, self-petitioning is an arduous
process for immigrant women – especially for those who
cannot afford to retain counsel. Petitioners must gather a
long list of evidence in order to meet all the required elements.
While the regulations governing the legislation state what
the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) adjudicator
should give due consideration to the difficulties some petitioners
may face in gathering documentation, the burden of proof lies
with the victim/petitioner. The most difficult evidence to
obtain is often that which proves that the petitioner is the
legal spouse of a citizen or LPR (e.g., marriage certificate
or another form of proof of the marriage).
Also necessary and difficult of obtain is proof of the abuser’s
immigration status (e.g., birth certificate, U.S. passport,
green card or other INS forms/certificates). Efforts to obtain
this documentation may place battered immigrant women at risk
of further harm by their abusers.
Deterrents to Use of the VAWA Provision
Recent Federal legislation places severe constraints
on many battered immigrant women’s ability to escape their abusers
and to utilize the options the VAWA offers them. In 1996, Congress
passed welfare and immigration laws that limit public assistance
for non-citizens, including battered immigrant women who have
self-petitioned under the VAWA. The Personal Responsibility
and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and the Illegal
Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
make many “qualified aliens ineligible
for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Food Stamps. The
impact of this legislation on battered immigrant women is grave:
many victims with pending or already approved petitions for
immigration under the VAWA provision will be unable to receive
the public assistance they desperately need as they begin to
establish economic independence from their abusers. Additionally,
domestic violence is now a deportable offense. Abusers who
are arrested and convicted may be sent back to their home countries – along
with the documentation that their victims need to satisfy VAWA’s
New legislation may be introduced in the next congressional
session that will encourage battered immigrant women to continue
to self-petition under VAWA. Anticipated provisions include
relaxed evidentiary requirements to simplify the evidence collection
process for victims whose abusers have been deported.
For more information on this topic, call the STOP T.A. Project
or the member agencies of the National Network on Behalf of
Battered Immigrant Women (Ayuda, Inc.: 202-387-0434; Family
Violence Prevention Fund: 415-252-8900; National Immigration
This article originally printed in the
STOP T.A. Project Memo, March 1999
The relevant provisions
of the VAWA (title IV of the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement
Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-332, 108 Stat. 1796 (1994)) may
be found at 8 U.S.C. §§ 1151, 1154, 1186, 1186a note,
1254, and 2245.
However, if these documents
are unavailable, the petitioner may present affidavits by persons
who have knowledge of the marriage.
Battered immigrant women
who are qualified aliens are undocumented women who have pending
or approved applications for lawful permanent residency based
upon a marriage to a U.S. citizen or an LPR. “An Advocate’s
Primer on Immigration Law, Welfare and Battered Immigrant Women
and Children,” Ayuda, Inc. (1998).
For more information call 800.838.8238 or
email Hotline@vsdvalliance.org. E-mail is not a secure form of communication. To ensure confidentiality please call the Family Violence & Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.838.8238 (V/TTY).