Written by attorney Samuel Patrick Ouya Maina

VAWA - How you can get a Green Card if you are being abused

Can you become a Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card) if you are being abused and your spouse or parent refuses to petition for you?

The immigration laws of the US allow certain relatives of US citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents to obtain lawful permanent residence, however these relatives are not automatically entitled to adjust their status. A petition filed by the citizen or lawful permanent resident must be approved and the relative must otherwise be eligible for adjustment of status in the United States.

Because the decision whether or not to file a petition rests solely with the citizen or lawful permanent resident, they possess great power over the immigration status of their relative. In the case of an abusive citizen or lawful permanent resident, they can misuse their control over this process and instead of helping their close family members to gain lawful status, they use this power to perpetuate domestic abuse of their spouses and minor children who have been living with them in the United States.

A typical scenario will involve the abuser refusing to file relative petitions for their family members because they believe it is easier to “control" someone who does not have lawful immigration status. In turn, the abused relative is less likely to report the abuse or leave the abusive environment because they fear they will be deported or believe that there is no help available to them. Oftentimes the abuser will threaten to have the family member deported if they seek outside help or do not comply with certain demands. The abuser may also promise to file a petition at some unspecified date in the future, but unfortunately that date never arrives.

To prevent people from unnecessarily remaining in abusive relationships in the hope that they may someday obtain lawful permanent residence in the US, the Government enacted what is commonly referred to as the “Violence Against Women Act" to allow a qualified relative to self-petition for immigrant classification based on the relationship to an abusive citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States. This can be done without the abuser's participation or consent. Despite its name, men are eligible to apply also.

In order to qualify for this relief the self petitioning immigrant must show that he or she:

  1. is the spouse or child of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States

  2. is eligible to be classified as an immigrant based on that relationship

  3. is residing in the United States

  4. has resided in the United States with the citizen or lawful permanent resident

  5. has been battered by, or has been the subject of extreme cruelty perpetrated by, the citizen or lawful permanent resident during the relationship

  6. is a person of good moral character

  7. is a person whose deportation would result in extreme hardship to herself or himself

  8. if a spouse, entered into the marriage to the citizen or lawful permanent resident in good faith.

If you have suffered abuse in your relationship, you should immediately speak with a competent immigration attorney to explore whether you qualify for this relief. You do not have to unnecessarily endure abuse and mistreatment and you may be able to obtain your Green Card.

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