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Immigration and domestic violence: What victims should know

Anybody can be a victim of domestic violence, but immigrants are often uniquely vulnerable simply because their immigration status is often used by an abuser to intimidate them and maintain control.

For example, a U.S. citizen who has an undocumented immigrant spouse may threaten to call the authorities and have that spouse deported. Or, a U.S. citizen whose spouse is trying to transition from a conditional residency to a more permanent status may refuse to file the joint petition to remove the conditions on their green card.

If you’re an immigrant who is a victim of domestic abuse, what are your options? Here are some to consider:

VAWA self-petitions

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows survivors of domestic violence (regardless of their gender), to self-petition for legal immigration status without relying on an abuser. VAWA provides victims with a pathway to both safety and independence. You can petition for yourself and certain family members so long as you have a qualifying relationship with an abusive spouse, parent or child with whom you live (or lived) and have good moral character.

Green card self-petitions

If your lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen spouse refuses to file a joint petition to remove the conditions on your green card, you can self-petition, so long as you can show that you entered the marriage in good faith and are the victim of abuse.

T Visa nonimmigrant status

Human trafficking is nothing short of modern-day slavery, whether the victims are forced into prostitution or forced to work in sweatshops and as domestic servants. If you can demonstrate that you were a victim of severe trafficking, are willing to cooperate with authorities as they investigate or prosecute the traffickers and would suffer extreme hardships if you were removed from this country, you may qualify for a T visa.

U Visa nonimmigrant status

The U Visa is specifically designed for the victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence, sexual violence or kidnapping. If you suffered substantial mental or physical abuse due to criminal activity and are helpful to the investigation or prosecution of the crime in question, you may have a path to legal residency through a U visa.

If you’re an immigrant struggling to escape domestic violence, there is legal assistance available.