The petitioner must show that they are legally married to their abusers. The application must be filed before the divorce is final, unless if the marriage was terminated within the last two years in connection with domestic violence. Documentation to establish relationship to the abuser includes:
- Marriage certificate of the petitioner and abuser;
- Death or divorce certificates of applicant's prior spouse(s) (if any);
- Birth certificate (to establish relationship between child and petitioning parent in child abuse related self-petitions); and
- Marriage certificate of parent to abuser (in child abuse related self-petitions).
IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE ABUSER
The petitioner must prove that their spouse is a USCs or LPRs. If the petitioner's spouse is a USC, a copy of any of the following documents may be submitted to establish the abuser's status:
- The abuser's birth certificate;
- The abuser's Certificate of Naturalization;
- The abuser's US passport; or
- Approval notice for I-130 petition filed by abuse
If the petitioner's spouse is a LPR, a copy of any of the following documents may be submitted to establish the abuser's status:
- Any INS document or letter with the abuser's A#;
- The abuser's Alien Registration Card (Green Card); or
- Approval notice for I-130 petition filed by abuser.
ESTABLISH BONA FIDE MARRIAGE
The petitioner must prove that the marriage was entered into in good faith. To do so, the petitioner should be able to demonstrate that the couple intended to make a life together and not to commit immigration fraud. Documents to establish bona fide marriage includes:
- Birth certificates of children;
- Photographs (ie wedding, vacation, etc);
- Notes, cards and letters between the petitioner and abuser;
- Affidavits of witnesses of your relationship; and
- Proof of joint property interests (joint tax returns, bank statements, etc).
ESTABLISH RESIDENCE WITH ABUSER
The petitioner must show that they live or lived with the abuser. Petitioners should provide ample documentation. If the petitioner and spouse lived for a short period of time, a declaration should explain why. Documents to establish residence may include:
- Lease agreements;
- Joint tax returns;
- Children's school records;
- Correspondence addressed to both of you;
- Affidavits of witnesses such as landlords, neighbors, friends, etc; and
- Any other documents listing the petitioner and abuser at the same address at the same time, such as medical records.
DOCUMENTS ESTABLISHING BATTERY OR EXTREME CRUELTY
The petitioner must show that they were subjected to "battery or extreme cruelty," which not only includes physical abuse and cruelty, but also emotional abuse. Evidence of this should be well documented, and may be demonstrated with the following:
- Detailed declaration from the self-petitioner telling her own story;
- Letters from witnesses of the abuse;
- Letters from counselors, shelters, community groups, etc;
- Photographs of injuries;
- Medical records;
- Police reports; and
- Restraining orders.
DOCUMENTS TO ESTABLISH GOOD MORAL CHARACTER
Finally, petitioners must show that they are themselves persons of good moral character. Documents to establish good moral character may include:
- The petitioner's declaration of good moral character;
- Local police (or state) clearance letters for each city the petitioner resided in for 6 months or longer during the past 3 years; and
- Letters of reference from employers, teachers, ministers, etc;
Note that the items listed in the above is not an exhaustive list. Advocates may be creative and provide other documentation to establish the elements necessary to qualify for VAWA immigration relief. There is an understanding that gathering documentation is a difficult process, so the standard for evidence is "any credible evidence." Petitioners will not necessarily be rejected for missing official documents.
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DO’S AND DON’TS
1) Don’t worry if you don’t have all the documents in the checklist above. The list provides ideas on how to prove the required elements, and it is not necessary to gather every piece of evidence suggested to have your petition approved.
2) Don’t leave your common residence (the residence shared with the abuser) without having the following in your possession:
- A marriage certificate;
- Divorce decree, if applicable;
- Medical reports establishing any injury resulting from abuse;
- Reports from psychologists/counselors;
- Police reports; and
- Any other documentation which may be used toward proving eligibility for immigration relief under VAWA.
3) Do have all evidentiary documents in languages other than English translated and certified (signed, and attested to) by a competent translator.
4) Don’t use the petitioner’s address in requests for records, documents, or declarations. Use the advocate’s address instead to ensure that the abuser does not learn that his spouse is applying for a self-petition.
5) Do keep your documents in a safe place, and not in an unsafe place like the petitioner’s home.
6) Do keep copies of everything you send to the immigration service and any other agencies, and send documents via “certified mail, return receipt requested.”
7) Do obtain a form of photo identification (ie driver’s license, or state ID card) if you do not already have one. While petitioners can explain to agencies and organizations that they need documentation to support a VAWA petition, some agencies may require photo identification before releasing any information. One way to obtain photo ID includes having relatives obtain a passport from the petitioner’s home country.
8) Do log your efforts in seeking to obtain evidence. If petitioners can’t convince agencies and organizations to provide documentation or police departments to give clearance letters, for example, then in lieu of the documentation, the petitioner may provide a log of her efforts as credible evidence.