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Friday, April 20, 2012

Immigration Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

William A. Kandel
Analyst in Immigration Policy

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) includes provisions to assist foreign nationals who have been victims of domestic abuse. These provisions, initially enacted by Congress with the Immigration Act of 1990 and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, afford benefits to abused foreign nationals and allow them to self-petition for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status independently of the U.S. citizen or LPR relatives who originally sponsored them. Congress reauthorized VAWA with the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000, which also created the U visa for foreign national victims of a range of crimes—including domestic abuse—who assisted law enforcement. A second reauthorization in 2005 added protections and expanded eligibility for abused foreign nationals.

VAWA expired in 2011. On November 30, 2011, Senator Leahy introduced S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011. It was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and reported favorably on February 7, 2012. On March 27, 2012, Representative Gwen Moore introduced a similar bill in the House, H.R. 4271.

S. 1925 contains key provisions that would expand protections and eligibility to foreign national victims of domestic abuse. Among other provisions included in the bill, it would allow children to continue to apply for protections and legal status under VAWA in the case of the death of their self-petitioner parent, a protection currently afforded only to child applicants for lawful permanent status under family-based immigration provisions of the INA. It would exempt VAWA self-petitioners, U visa petitioners, and battered foreign nationals from removal proceedings if their financial circumstances classified them as inadmissible. It would provide foreign nationals with expanded background information on their sponsoring U.S. citizen and LPR spouses. It would also expand the annual number of U visas issued from 10,000 to 15,000 for a limited period.

Two potential concerns for Congress have been emphasized regarding the immigration provisions of VAWA. The first is whether the proposed VAWA reauthorization provides sufficient relief to foreign nationals abused by their U.S. citizen or LPR sponsoring relatives. Advocates for battered immigrants suggest that additional provisions are needed to assist this population in obtaining legal and economic footing independently of their original sponsors for legal immigrant status. Critics of expanding immigration, however, question the extent to which these provisions may increase the number of legal immigrants and cost the U.S. taxpayers.

The second related concern is the degree to which VAWA provisions might unintentionally facilitate marriage fraud. This may occur through what some perceive as relatively lenient standards of evidence to demonstrate abuse; as the unintended result of processing procedures between the District Offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which adjudicate most immigration applications, and the USCIS Vermont Service Center, which adjudicates VAWA petitions; or as an unintended consequence of the structure of current law. While some suggest that VAWA provides opportunities for dishonest and enterprising immigrants to circumvent U.S. immigration laws, reliable empirical support for these assertions is limited.

Date of Report: April 1
0, 2012
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R424
Price: $29.95

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