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What immigrants who are domestic violence victims need to know

Too many immigrants to the U.S. who are victims of domestic violence are afraid to report it to law enforcement or seek other help because they’re afraid they’ll be deported. That’s particularly true for those who have their visa through a spouse or other family member who is their abuser. They may also fear they’ll have to leave their children behind with the abuser. Others are afraid of reporting their abuse because they aren’t in the U.S. legally.

Fortunately, the federal government provides protections for all immigrants, documented and undocumented, who are victims of domestic violence. Here we’ll focus on the protections offered by the federal law known as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

What should you know about the VAWA?

Under the VAWA, if the abuser is a current or former spouse, parent or even their child and that abuser is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident of the U.S. (in other words, a green card holder), a victim may be able to self-petition to become a permanent resident. They wouldn’t be dependent on their abuser to get this status.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), besides meeting the relationship qualifications listed above, the self-petitioner must show the following:

  • They have “good moral character.”
  • The currently or previously lived with their abuser.
  • They are/were “victims of battery or extreme cruelty.”

Self-petitioners need to use Form I-360, Petition for Widow(er)s, Amerasians, and Special Immigrants.

What are U and T visas?

Another option for immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence or other crimes, including incest, rape and sexual exploitation, is to seek “U nonimmigrant status,” which comes with a U visa. It provides a legal way to remain in the U.S. if they “have been, or are likely to be helpful to the investigation and/or prosecution of that qualifying criminal activity.”

A T visa can be sought by those who have been victims of human trafficking if they cooperate “with any reasonable requests for assistance in the investigation or prosecution.” That cooperation isn’t required for victims under 18.

If you or someone you know fears reporting domestic violence or removing themselves or their family from a situation where there is domestic violence, it’s crucial to know that there are options available that may allow them to seek safety and remain in the U.S. Having legal guidance can help.