Immigrants are not immune to the threat of domestic violence. Just like other populations, they can fall victim to abusers in their own households. Unfortunately, they can be even more vulnerable because they are separated from other family and friends, and many do not speak English. This makes it particularly hard to seek the resources that can help. Not understanding how U.S. laws work and fearing deportation can make victims afraid to seek help.
What Qualifies as Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence occurs when a spouse or other family member abuses or threatens the other person on a consistent basis. It could include physical harm, emotional blackmail, forced sexual relations, child abuse, violent crimes, and even immigration-related threats. Victims could be of either gender and of all different ages.
Failing to provide support, guidance, food, medical care, and shelter are forms of neglect and abuse that can also be considered as domestic violence. All of these actions are against the law, and everyone in the U.S. is guaranteed protection from this abuse. The victim’s race, age, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, and immigration or citizenship status do not exclude them from these protections. All domestic violence victims are entitled to seek help, no matter the circumstances, and some may also qualify for immigration-related protections as well.
What are My Legal Rights?
Crime victims in this country can obtain assistance offered from government and non-governmental agencies, which include emergency housing, counseling, monetary assistance, interpreters, and safety planning. Immigrant victims also have the right to seek and obtain protection orders for themselves and their children. They are entitled to seek custody and financial support from the abusive parent, especially when the children are under age 21. Victims can also pursue legal separations and divorces, without spousal consent, and they have the right to share martial property, with some exceptions.
Can I Call the Police?
U.S. laws protect all crime victims, so the best thing for domestic abuse victims to do when there is immediate danger is to call 911. Law enforcement officers may place the abuser under arrest, and will also want to know about any injuries or past abuse. It is not unusual for the abuser to claim that they have been abused by their accuser. If this happens, it is advised not to answer any questions without an immigration lawyer present.
How to Remove Conditions of Residency
Immigrant spouses who have green cards and are married to U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents may file their own petitions to remove their conditions of residency. In most cases, when the immigrant spouse originally applies for permanent residency status, they are granted green cards with a two-year conditional residency. In situations where the immigrant is being abused, the spouse may refuse to file a joint petition to remove the conditions after two years. The immigrant spouse may be able to self-petition and change their status to permanent resident in these cases.
What are U Visas?
These specialized visas are sometimes provided to immigrants who suffer from domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, and sexual exploitation. However, there is a provision that the victim must help law enforcement and/or help to prosecute the crime. After a U visa application is approved, an applicant will receive a work permit that is valid for four years. Once the immigrant has U visa status for three years, he or she may apply for a green card.
What is the Violence Against Women Act?
Battered spouses, parents, and children can file immigrant visa petitions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which was amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This permits certain immigrants to file petitions without their abusers knowing. Petitioners must be parents of, children of, or spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents to qualify. Abused spouses must have entered into their marriages in good faith, been living with their abusers, and not apply solely for the immigration benefits. Abused parents and children who apply must also have been residing with their abusers.
VAWA applies to women and men, and applicants may become eligible to obtain legal status or citizenship. The VAWA form, U visa application, and instructions can be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services webpage. Application fees may apply for all petitions, and applicants should receive a confirmation notice. They may be asked to complete biometric services and appear at interviews before the final decisions are made. These green cards are also called Domestic Violence Green Cards.
Why Should I Apply?
Domestic Violence Green Cards allow permanent U.S. residency, as long as the card holder does not commit an offense that makes them a candidate for deportation. Offenses include committing certain crimes and violating U.S. immigration laws. These cards offer protection and allow card holders to sponsor spouses and unmarried minor children under age 21 for their own green cards.
Other benefits include the ability to leave and re-enter the country, the right to apply for financial aid for higher education, receive in-state or resident tuition rates, the chance to work in different fields, and the opportunity to start a new business. Domestic Violence Green Cards can also help make it possible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at the MC Law Group, LLC Help Immigrants Suffering from Domestic Violence
If you or someone you care about is an immigrant victim of domestic violence, we can help. Contact the experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at the MC Law Group, LLC today. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide. Call 215-496-0690 or complete our online form today for a free consultation.