VAWA: Physical abuse is not required

IMMIGRATION CORNER - Michael J. Gurfinkel - The Philippine Star

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows spouses of US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR) to file their own self-petition for a green card if they were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty during the marriage.

 Many people believe VAWA applies only to women, and they must have suffered physical abuse by their US citizen or LPR spouse, which must be documented with police/arrest reports or hospital records demonstrating injury. This is not true. VAWA can also apply to abused husbands, and a person could be eligible if they can demonstrate they suffered “extreme cruelty,” even if they were never physically abused.

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), extreme cruelty “is a non-physical act of violence or threat of violence demonstrating a pattern or intent on the part of the US citizen or LPR to attain compliance from or control over the self-petitioner,” and can come in many forms, including:

• Isolation;

• Humiliation;

• Degradation, use of guilt, minimizing or blaming;

• Economic control;

• Coercion;

• Threatening to commit a violent act toward the self-petitioner (or the self-petitioner’s children);

• Acts intended to create fear, compliance or submission by the self-petitioner;

• Controlling what self-petitioners do and who they see and talk to;

• Denying access to food, family or medical treatment;

• Threats of deportation;

• Acts that may not initially appear violent but are a part of an overall pattern of violence; or

• Acts aimed at some other person or thing may be considered abuse if the acts were deliberately used to perpetrate extreme cruelty against the self-petitioner or the self-petitioners.

In fact, a recent Court of Appeals decision stated that a VAWA self-petitioner is not required to show physical abuse as a prerequisite to finding “extreme cruelty.” In that case, the alien came down with breast cancer and the American husband’s attitude towards her changed and he became rude and obnoxious, grabbed her and pulled her in front of the mirror and said, “You’re not a woman for me anymore.”  He screamed at her on several occasions but did not physically abuse her.

My office has handled several VAWA cases where no physical abuse was involved. Instead, we were able to demonstrate extreme cruelty through the stress and anxiety the client was suffering, such as when the American refused to petition the person, threatened to withdraw the petition, threatened to have the person deported, would not let the person speak with or visit their family members, treated them like a prisoner or housekeeper, was taking drugs, gambling all the time, not working and expected the spouse to work hard and support them, called the person names, etc. None of this involved physical abuse or harm, but we were able to convince the USCIS this that constituted extreme cruelty.

If you are married to a US citizen or LPR and are the victim of extreme cruelty, you may want to consult with an attorney who can evaluate your situation as to whether it reaches the level of extreme cruelty and whether you meet other requirements. The attorney can also help you package your VAWA petition for a green card.

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