Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can request legal status in the U.S. when they cannot depend on abusive spouses or other family members who are legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
Additionally, the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) requires the U.S. government to enable foreign spouses and fiancés or fiancées to access information about the legal rights available to them along with their abusers’ domestic violence or criminal histories. Under IMBRA, immigrant victims of domestic violence can learn how to continue the immigration process without the help of the abusive party.
What Is Considered Domestic Violence?
Incidents of domestic violence involve an intimate partner or spouse abusing or threatening the other. This violence could entail physical abuse, along with emotional abuse, forced sexual relations, or immigration- or economic- related threats. Victims of domestic violence could include both men and women.
Instances of child abuse, sexual assault, and other serious crimes all count as domestic violence. All types of domestic violence are illegal in the U.S., and victims of this abuse have the right to legal protection from abuse, regardless of their immigration status, race, gender, age, or other traits. It’s crucial for victims of abuse to seek this protection as soon as possible, which could help prevent future abuse.
Protections for Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence
All individuals living in the U.S., regardless of status, can seek protection from the law against domestic abuse of any kind. Abuse victims have the right to request and access a protection order for themselves and their children, and they can seek divorce or legal separation without the need for the other partner’s consent.
Additionally, victims of domestic violence have the right to share certain types of marital property. They can also ask for custody of their children, along with financial support from the other partner.
Steps That Victims Can Take to Prevent Further Abuse
Following an incident of domestic violence, victims can call the police to request assistance and request a protection order against the abuser. The police may choose to arrest the alleged abuser, which could include a fiancé/fiancée, partner, spouse, or another individual suspected of committing a crime.
Abusers may attempt to accuse the abuse victim of a crime, but victims still have rights independent of their immigration or citizenship status. For example, they can:
- Consult with a lawyer
- Choose to remain silent until a lawyer is present
- Speak in their defense
Domestic violence victims also have the option of securing a restraining or protection order with a court through legal service offices, courthouses, women’s shelters, or police stations. These court-issued orders could prevent abusers from contacting the abuse victim, their children, or other members of the family. In the event of an abuser violating this order, individuals can call the police to have the abuser arrested.
Immigrant victims of domestic violence may also contact both a criminal lawyer and immigration lawyer for representation.
Immigration Options Available to Abuse Victims
Immigrants in the U.S. have a few options available to them if they want benefits following domestic violence. Abuse victims benefit from confidentiality when applying, which helps make sure the abuser won’t become aware of the application.
The three options that immigrant victims may apply for include:
- U-nonimmigrant status for crime victims
- Cancellation of removal through VAWA
- Self-petitions for legal status through VAWA
However, individuals must keep in mind that each of these benefits comes with unique requirements they will need to meet. To better determine how to meet these requirements, abuse victims may want to speak with an immigration attorney that’s familiar with their situation.
How Else Does the U.S. Government Provide Protection and Information About Rights?
IMBRA is an act that made it a requirement for the American government to provide access to information about legal rights and protection for all victims of domestic violence.
Abuse victims can request information under IMBRA through an in-depth pamphlet that details all the services and laws that can protect them in the event of abuse. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) developed and distributes this pamphlet to provide sufficient information to individuals who want to learn more about the protections available to them and their families.
If an immigrant suffers domestic abuse at the hands of their spouse or another person, they still have the chance to preserve or change their immigration status while seeking protection from their abuser. Like every other resident and citizen of the U.S., immigrant abuse victims can petition for protection orders and seek services to keep them safe. This is why it’s important for victims to seek help from the police, attorneys, and other services immediately after an instance of domestic violence.