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
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.
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