Proving Abuse to Get a Green Card Under VAWA

Types of documents that can help VAWA self-petitioners prove that they really were the victims of domestic violence.

Someone who is applying for a U.S. green card through VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act); which means applying for lawful permanent residence without an unhelpful, abusive U.S. spouse or parent; will have to provide documentation of that abuse.

For more information on the eligibility rules, see Process to Get a Green Card Under VAWA.

Finding Online Help

When looking for help, remember to consider how private your computer, Internet, and phone use are. Consider whether there's anything you can and should do to prevent someone else from learning that you're doing research or seeking help. Some victims, for instance, might use the same computer or device as the abuser, or might have a phone plan that allows the abuser to see the calls they make and receive. Other kinds of technology, like home security cameras and GPS in phones and cars, can also allow for monitoring by the abuser.

Overview of the Immigration Filing Process

A prospective VAWA applicant who has not already been placed in removal proceedings should start by filing an application by mail (Form I-360 if just starting the process, or Form I-751 for conditional U.S. residents seeking permanent residence). After that, the applicant might be required attend an interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the application is denied, the foreign national could be placed into immigration court proceedings, at which time it's possible to renew the application for a U.S. green card.

Proving Abuse for VAWA Purposes

First, it's important to understand the types of abuse that can qualify someone to self-petition for a green card under VAWA. The definition is broader than one might think. It includes not only physical violence, but

  • threats
  • intimidation
  • economic abuse
  • social isolation
  • sexual abuse
  • verbal abuse
  • harassment
  • and more.

With that in mind, self-petitioners in a VAWA case will need to gather credible, detailed evidence showing that they (or their children) have experienced such abuse by the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or parent.

Here are some possibilities for this type of evidence:

  • a personal statement by the victim
  • doctor or hospital records indicating injuries caused by the abuser
  • psychiatrist or social worker records showing discussions about the abuse
  • affidavits from doctors, psychiatrists, or others who worked with the victim, indicating their professional observations about apparent abuse
  • affidavits from friends, coworkers, neighbors, clergy, teachers, and others relating conversations with the victim regarding the abuse, or their personal observations of abusive behavior by the U.S. citizen or LPR
  • records of school or work absences corresponding to other evidence of abuse
  • police reports showing incidences of abuse
  • statements or records from domestic violence shelters showing that the victim sought protection there
  • photographs showing the victim's injuries
  • copies of protection or restraining orders against the abuser
  • photographs of personal possessions of the victim that the abuser damaged; or the objects themselves, if making a court appearance or attending a personal interview.

This list is not exhaustive. You might be able to think of additional ways of proving abuse.

Realize, however, that proving a VAWA case also involves gathering documents proving other matters, such as the citizenship or LPR status of the petitioner, the existence of a good faith marriage, and more. A lawyer can help; and many nonprofit organizations offer low-cost legal assistance.

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