Congress Reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act

1080946_sad_silhouette.jpgThe Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a law that Congress initially enacted in 1994. The purpose of the VAWA law was to create safeguards and legal remedies for victims of domestic violence. VAWA authorized federal funding allocations for research into domestic violence, prevention efforts, treatment programs for victims, and several other programs aimed at decreasing domestic violence in the United States.

Importantly, VAWA contains many provisions that affect foreign nationals and protect them from crimes of domestic violence perpetrated by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. For example, under VAWA, foreign nationals who are married to U.S. citizens are eligible to "self-petition" on their own behalf (and on behalf of their children) for their green cards, meaning they do not require their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse to sponsor them. (Among other requirements, VAWA self-petitions must demonstrate that the victims are people of good moral character, that they have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by the citizen or permanent resident, and that leaving the United States would result in their extreme hardship.)

VAWA also created the U visa category. The U visa is reserved for victims of domestic violence (and other crimes) who agree to help the police investigate and prosecute abusers. Any foreign national who has suffered mental or physical abuse as a result of a crime outlined in the VAWA law can potentially qualify for the U visa, and ultimately permanent residence.

The protections afforded by VAWA are necessary to ensure that foreign nationals do not become the victims of stalking, domestic violence, and other crimes committed by U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. Unfortunately, citizens and permanent residents may use foreign nationals' immigrant (or illegal) statuses against them in order to make them stay in the abusive situation. The VAWA safeguards ensure that foreign nationals who are victims of domestic abuse can report their abusers without fear of jeopardizing their immigration statuses.

Congress has to periodically reauthorize VAWA and recently Congress did just that. The newest version of VAWA did not create new remedies for foreign nationals, but it did make a number of improvements to their current legal protections. For instance, the new version includes additional safeguards that bolster another existing law, called the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, to ensure that foreign nationals entering into marriages with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are informed about their future spouses' criminal histories. Moreover, the new bill requires that a federal agency provide Congress with annual reports detailing the processing times and outcomes for VAWA petitions, T visas (visas for human trafficking victims), and U visas. The purpose of these annual reports is to ensure that these critically important immigration petitions are processed as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Additionally, the newest provision of the bill will also protect bisexual, gay, and transgender victims from domestic abuse.

Since its inception in 1997, approximately 98,192 domestic abuse victims have filed VAWA self-petitions. Of these petitions, an estimated 75% have been approved. The Gee Law Firm is available to help foreign nationals through the difficult situations that VAWA addresses. Contact our office at 650-293-0270 to speak to one of our attorneys about your case.

Additional Blog Posts

USCIS Announces Provisional I-601 Waiver, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, January 16, 2013
Green Card Bill Passes for Widows of U.S. Citizens, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, October 23, 2009

Immigration Reform / by Michelle Gee