Law Explained

The Violence Against Women Act was renewed in March, 2022

CONGRESS RENEWED The Violence Against Women Act in March, 2022


COVID and the resulting confinement at home that it created have increased domestic violence claims throughout the United States. Many of those affected are immigrants who live with a United States Citizen (USC) or a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR), often referred to as a “green card holder.” I represent victims of such abuse who may be eligible for immigration relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). I meet with victims of domestic violence and assess whether they might have a claim under VAWA. A victim of such domestic violence must apply on their own behalf, known as a “self-petition.” However, before applying for U.S. residence under VAWA, a victim must do more than complete Form I-360 and send it to USCIS. Therefore, I meet with clients to gather sufficient evidence to demonstrate that all VAWA eligibility requirements have been met.

What evidence must a victim submit to USCIS include when a victim self-petitions for VAWA (form I-360)?

The VAWA application, Form I-360, is known as the “Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.” In addition to this form, victims must provide evidence to demonstrate that they meet all the requirements of VAWA. I assist in completing the following documents to be submitted with all applications:

1. A written personal declaration by the victim, describing their relationship with the abuser, the abuse they suffered, and any other relevant details.

A personal declaration should provide a detailed account listing times, places, and people’s names. It should narrate how the victim and the abuser met and the nature of the abuse. Abuse encompasses not only physical abuse but also emotional, mental, and financial abuse. A victim’s declaration should include the statement, “I swear under penalty of perjury that the following is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.” It can be challenging for someone to revisit a difficult time in their life when they experienced abuse. I approach the process with patience and thoroughness to assist individuals in creating detailed accounts of the abuse, as it is crucial. A victim’s declaration may also highlight activities that demonstrate good moral character, such as regular attendance at a place of worship, support for family, or involvement in community activities.

2. Police clearance records and/or other evidence showing the victim’s “good moral character.”

If a victim has prior convictions, police clearance records can serve as evidence to demonstrate their current or newfound “good moral character.” Signed declarations from friends and family members attesting to the victim’s good character may also suffice. When evaluating moral character, USCIS considers “the standards of the average citizen in the community.” I can help determine the type of evidence that will strengthen a VAWA application.

3. A copy of the victim’s passport or birth certificate.

To establish their identity, the victim must submit a copy of their birth certificate and/or passport. If the documents are not in English, a translation is required. For a fee (currently $50 per document), I can provide translation services.

4. Evidence of the victim and the abuser living together.

Under VAWA, a victim must demonstrate that they currently live or have lived in the past with the USC or LPR abuser. Even if the victim and the abuser were not married, their cohabitation can still be considered. In certain circumstances, a victim may also qualify under VAWA if they were married to a USC or LPR and lived together outside the United States. To provide evidence of living together, documents such as leases or public utility bills with both parties’ names may be submitted. School records listing the victim and the abuser as parents can also serve as evidence. Additionally, tax returns and pay stubs can be useful. Collecting as many documents as possible that show the victim’s name and the abuser’s name at the same address helps establish the necessary evidence. In the absence of such documents, declarations from friends and family members attesting to the victim and abuser living together can be submitted. I can assist with translating any letters written in a language other than English.

5. Evidence of the abuse that the victim suffered

Victims must provide as much evidence as possible demonstrating the abuse that they suffered. I can assist with collecting records, but it is often easiest for a person to get reports in person or request them online, before bringing them to me. Police reports detailing the abuse or restraining orders against the abuser provide strong evidence. If the abuser was arrested or convicted of physically abusing the victim, the victim may submit court records to this effect. Doctor or hospital records due to abuse also provide compelling evidence. Finally, if the victim has seen a mental health practitioner or gone to a domestic violence shelter, this evidence may be submitted. (Note: a victim does not have to show only physical abuse to qualify under VAWA. Emotional or psychological abuse may be enough, or “extreme cruelty.” Medication prescribed by a psychiatrist due to the abuse is evidence as well). I try to get as much evidence of abuse as possible, as this is crucial to the person’s case.

6. Proof That the Victim Suffered abuse at the hands of a USC or LPR

If the abuser is a USC, the victim should submit a copy of the abuser’s birth certificate (and translation, if necessary), U.S. passport, or certificate of naturalization. Often birth certificates may be obtained through the vital records office in the state where the abuser was born. However, if the abuser has already filed Form I-130 with USCIS on the victim’s behalf, the victim may merely submit a copy of it and/or the subsequent receipt or approval notice from USCIS as evidence of the abuser’s U.S. immigration status.

If the abuser is an LPR, the victim may submit a copy of the green card, a USCIS I-130 receipt and/or approval notice, or any other immigration document that refers to the immigration status of the abuser. If the victim cannot obtain any of the above documents, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request may be filed with USCIS, asking for a copy of the victim’s I-130 application and the supporting documentation. USCIS will send a copy of the victim’s immigration file, and it may contain information about the spouse/abuser. In the absence of any of the above-mentioned proof, the victim may submit signed declarations from friends and family who know of the abuser’s immigration status, either as a USC or LPR.

We may also send in a request to the USCIS to search their records to verify the abuser’s immigration status. With such a request, we would include sworn statements explaining why the victim cannot provide documents proving the abuser’s immigration status. It should be noted that the USCIS understands that abusers commonly hide official documents as part of the control and abuse. If a victim is in this situation, we may describe their plight to the USCIS. In this situation, a victim must provide as much identifying information about the abuser as possible, to assist USCIS in their search, such as name/s (including aliases), birth date, where they were born, Social Security number, A-number (for LPRs), parents’ names, and date and place of naturalization.

7. Proof that the victim currently lives in the United States

For a VAWA self-petition, we must have evidence that the victim currently resides in the U.S. and provide proof of this residence. Tax documents and items like bank statements and utility bills may be used to show that someone currently lives in the United States. Pay stubs also provide strong evidence, showing the dates and times of work and the amount paid. Once we have gathered sufficient evidence, we will submit this to the USCIS.

8. Evidence of the victim’s good faith marriage (if applicable)

If the victim was married to the abuser, they must show that their marriage was entered into in good faith, meaning that they genuinely intended to establish a life together and not merely to obtain immigration benefits. Evidence of a good faith marriage can include joint bank accounts, joint ownership or lease of property, joint utility bills, joint tax returns, birth certificates of children born during the marriage, and affidavits from friends and family attesting to the legitimacy of the marriage. The USCIS will carefully review this evidence to determine if the marriage was indeed entered into in good faith.

Please note that while I strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, immigration laws and procedures may change over time. It is always recommended to consult with an immigration attorney or the USCIS website for the most current and specific guidance regarding VAWA applications.

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