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 April 26, 2012, the Senate passed it by a vote of 68 to 31. In the
House, Representative Adams introduced H.R. 4970 (To reauthorize the Violence Against
Women Act of 1994) on April 27, 2012. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee
where it was reported favorably on May 8, 2012. The House passed the bill in
the nature of a substitute on May 16, 2012, by a vote of 222 to 205.
H.R. 4970 and S. 1925 both include provisions that would mandate background
information on restraining and protective orders issued against the
sponsoring U.S. based petitioners and prohibit marriage brokers from
marketing information about foreign nationals under age 18. Both bills 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. Both bills would
extend VAWA coverage to derivative children of deceased petitioners as well as
protect U visa petitioners under age 21 and derivative children of adult U
visa petitioners from “aging out” of eligibility after filing a U visa
petition. They would exempt VAWA self-petitioners, U visa petitioners, and
battered foreign nationals from removal proceedings if their financial circumstances
classified them as inadmissible on “public charge grounds.” Finally, both bills would
allow U visa petitioners with conditional LPR status to obtain hardship waivers
removing their conditional status in cases of bigamy.
S. 1925 contains provisions that would expand protections and eligibility to
foreign national victims of domestic abuse. Among other provisions, the
bill would expand the definition of abuse under the U visa provisions to
include “stalking.” It would also expand the annual number of U visas
issued from 10,000 to 15,000 for a limited number of years. It would require
more extensive background checks on each U.S. citizen who petitions on
behalf of an alien fiancé or fiancée using the National Crime Information
Center’s Protection Order Database. Inconsistencies regarding
self-disclosures of past abuse would be disclosed to the foreign national. In
addition, the bill would establish federal criminal penalties for
specified broker violations, misuse of information obtained by international
marriage brokers, and failures of U.S. clients to make required
self-disclosures. Finally, the bill would permit U and T visa holders in the Commonwealth
of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to count time physically present in the Commonwealth
toward the three-year continuous U.S. presence requirement for adjusting their status
to legal permanent residence.
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