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Thursday, June 21, 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 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 fiancĂ© or fiancĂ©e 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.

Date of Report: June 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: R42477
Price: $29.95

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