VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT (VAWA)
VAWA is the acronym for the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed by Congress in 1994. Among other things, VAWA created special provisions in United States immigration law to protect battered noncitizens. These provisions were updated in 2000 by the Battered Immigrant Women's Protection Act. If the batterer is a US citizen or legal permanent resident (LPR) and you are either: 1) the battered spouse; 2) the child/step-child who was battered OR witnessed spousal abuse of your parent/ step-parent; or 3) you are a parent who is battered by your adult child, you may be eligible to file an immigrant visa petition (self-petition) under the Violence against Women Act (VAWA).
The special provisions that VAWA created under United States immigration law may help you obtain Lawful Permanent Residence. Under VAWA, battered non-citizens who are married to, or recently divorced from US Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents can, in certain circumstances, self-petition (without the help or knowledge of their abusive spouse) to obtain Lawful Permanent Residence or to remove the condition on their 2-year Conditional Permanent Residence cards.
Normally, when petitioning for Lawful Permanent Residence as a spouse of a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, your spouse must initiate (start) the petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security, and attend an interview with immigration authorities along with you in order for your petition for Lawful Permanent Residence to be granted. In relationships of domestic violence, this often means that the abusive spouse uses his ability to control the immigration status of the victim as yet another method of abuse. To eliminate this deeply damaging power dynamic, VAWA allows battered non-citizens to "self-petition” for Lawful Permanent Residence. In effect, instead of depending upon the abusive spouse to apply for the victim’s immigration status with USCIS, a victim can apply on his or her own behalf and on behalf of her children. The abusive spouse plays no role in the process and does not have to know you are applying. In fact, the law is clear that USCIS may not inform an applicant’s spouse that a victim has applied for a VAWA self-petition.
VAWA created a second way for battered non-citizens to obtain Lawful Permanent Residence under VAWA: "Cancellation of Removal." Cancellation of removal is available to battered noncitizens who are in, or can be placed into, removal (deportation) proceedings before an immigration judge. If a battered noncitizen qualifies for cancellation, an Immigration Judge may waive deportation and grant him or her lawful permanent residency. However, because a battered noncitizen must be in removal proceedings before he or she can apply for Cancellation of Removal, and being in removal proceedings carries with it a substantial risk of deportation. Please be certain to consult with an immigration attorney before proceeding.
VAWA created a third way for battered non-citizens to obtain Lawful Permanent Residence under VAWA: Battered Spouse or Child Waiver. If you have the 2 year conditional permanent residence card and you are a victim of domestic violence, your conditional status can be removed before the two year period.