One of the most unfortunately common situations we come across in our practice is immigrant men and women who are being abused by their domestic partners. Given the current restrictions on movement due to the coronavirus epidemic, domestic violence is on the rise worldwide, and this phenomenon is being reflected in the calls we are getting lately for help.
Usually the immigrants (men, as well as women) who find themselves in this difficult situation fall into 3 categories: (1) they have no immigration status, and they are not married to their abusive partner; (2) they have no immigration status, but are married to a US citizen or greencard holder who refuses to sponsor them; and (3) they are married to a US citizen or greencard holder, and have a greencard based on their marriage, but their greencard is expiring and their marriage is falling apart.
Fortunately, provisions exist in immigration law to help the abused person in all three situations. In the first scenario, where the immigrant is not legally married to their abuser, filing a U-visa application can be an option. Such an application requires a police report of a crime, and certification from law enforcement that the immigrant has been helpful in solving the crime. It takes courage to file a police report, but doing so could be the first step to becoming financially and legally independent of the abuser.
We have also seen many cases in the second scenario, where the immigrant finds themselves in an abusive marriage and their spouse refuses to sponsor their greencard. Often times the threat of deportation is used as a form of abuse to control and manipulate the spouse. Fortunately, under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the abused spouse can sponsor themselves for a greencard. In fact, it is not necessary that the couple be divorced or even separated for this to happen. Immigration authorities are legally obligated to use strict protocols to shield information about the self-greencard filing from the abuser.
Finally, some immigrants find themselves in a situation of being married to a US citizen or greencard holder who have sponsored them for a greencard, but their relationship is ending and their greencard is expiring. Under normal circumstances, both spouses are supposed to file a petition together to extend the greencard. However, in an abusive situation, the abused spouse can extend their greencard on their own if they can properly explain their situation to the immigration authorities. A common misconception is that the abuse has to be physical, or that there must be a police report to prove that the abuse occurred, but neither belief is accurate. We have had success in helping both male and female immigrants in this scenario who were emotionally abandoned or verbally threatened, but where there was no physical abuse or police report.
Nobody enters into a relationship or marriage thinking that it will lead to a situation where they are trapped. When someone’s immigration status depends on that relationship, they can be especially vulnerable. Luckily, with the right help, there is a way out of that situation, which allows immigrants to remain in the United States and rebuild their lives.