Immigration Protection for Battered Spouses

Michael Dunn was tried this year for shooting into a car of boisterous teenagers in Jacksonville, Florida, and killing a 17-year-old boy, Jordan Davis. The case drew national attention because he used the stand your ground defense, a repeat of recent cases in which a white man claimed self-defense in the shooting of an unarmed black teen.

The investigation into Mr. Dunn revealed a horrific past of spousal abuse. Neighbors in Mr. Dunn’s Port St. Lucie community described his abusive treatment of his two ex-wives — one from Mexico, the other from Colombia. The information was intended to demonstrate the perpetrator’s violent tendencies, but was ruled inadmissible at his murder trial. According to witnesses, Mr. Dunn battered and threatened to kill his wives. He controlled their finances, job opportunities and friendships and constantly dangled the risk of deportation over their heads. The plight of Mr. Dunn’s two wives demonstrates a widespread problem for immigrant women throughout Florida and the nation — the fear of abuse is overshadowed by the fear of deportation.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) helps immigrants escape abusive relationships and protects their rights to remain in the United States. Although the name reflects the law’s more common application, VAWA also protects men who are victims of spousal abuse.

VAWA permits qualifying spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to petition for a green card without the abuser’s permission or knowledge. The abuser is not notified of the application so the victim can gain safety and independence from his or her abuser.

You may be eligible to petition under VAWA if the following apply:

  • You are in a qualifying marital or post-marital relationship.
  • Your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse subjected you or your child to extreme cruelty or battering.
  • You married in good faith, not exclusively for immigration benefits.
  • You have lived with your spouse.
  • You are considered a person of good moral character under the immigration codes.

Your rights under VAWA extend to your unmarried children under the age of 21, who may be included on your petition. Children and some parents of abusers may also self-petition under VAWA.

Let a Tampa immigration lawyer explain your rights and help you escape an abusive relationship while maintaining your right to live in the United States.

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