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Finding Protection Under US Immigration Law


Undocumented immigrant victims of violence historically have been extremely reluctant to seek justice for the crimes perpetrated against them because to do so inevitably requires the involvement of law enforcement. Those who have no status in the United States understand full well that if they contact the police, immigration authorities may follow behind, and deportation back to their native countries might be the ultimate consequence of coming forward. In the past, this meant that battered spouses remained in abusive marriages, victims of human trafficking did not attempt to flee from their tormentors, and those who were victimized by criminal acts did not report the offense to police, making communities less safe for all of us.

Fortunately, in the past two decades, Congress recognized this troubling and its serious consequences on the necessary enforcement of our criminal laws. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) authorized “self-petitioning” for permanent residence to those married to a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident who are subjected to domestic violence. It also created a special “waiver” allowing victims of domestic violence who attained a “conditional” residence of two years to become full permanent residents without further assistance from the abusive sponsoring spouses. Then in 2000, an amendment to VAWA, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (Pub. L. No. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1464), created special visas for victims of violent crimes and victims of human trafficking who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of those offenses. Even asylum, which may not be an obvious form of relief in such cases, has more recently evolved to include women who have experienced domestic violence as potential “members of a particular social group” for the purposes of establishing asylum protection in the United States.The benefits these provisions of law have afforded immigrant survivors of violence  are invaluable for their safety and stability, and to resolving serious affronts against our society as a whole.

By Sophie Feal and Emma Buckthal, published on Criminal Justice, Spring 2016

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