October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is intended to shine a light on the human right to be free from violence, ensure that all victims of domestic violence know they are not alone, and foster supportive communities that help survivors seek justice. In the United States, twenty people are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner each minute. Most victims don’t come forward because it is not safe; in fact leaving an abusive relationship is often when victims are at the greatest risk of homicide by their abusive partners.
Immigrant victims are particularly vulnerable as they often live in the shadows of society and face additional challenges to reporting abuse and/or leaving an abusive relationship. These barriers include fear that police contact may lead to deportation, separation from children and other family members, language barriers, isolation, and fear of being ostracized by their families or communities for coming forward. Many undocumented immigrant victims are not aware that they are protected by U.S. laws and have options for escaping the violence. They don’t know that they have access to police or court protections.
This vulnerability is increased further when a victim’s immigration status depends on an abusive intimate partner or relative. For example, the victim may depend on a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse to file a family-based immigration petition on his or her behalf. Abusers often delay, revoke, or fail to file petitions for their family members as a tactic for maintaining power and control. Threats of deportation and/or separating victims from their children provide abusers with an effective tool for silencing their victims.
What many people don’t know is that federal law provides numerous forms of protection for immigrant victims of domestic violence, including the following:
As domestic violence continues to plague our society, USCIS is proposing new policies to assist victims including the I-765V Application for Employment Authorization for Abused Nonimmigrant Spouse. This policy would offer employment authorization eligibility to an abused spouse, and while this temporary relief is still in the information collection and review phase, it is a positive sign of support for a vulnerable group of people.
However, help for immigrant victims of domestic violence is often slow to come because of significant USCIS processing delays. in these categories of relief. U visa petitioners are now waiting approximately 2.5 years for an initial waitlist determination and could wait several more years for a final decision. Because of the increasing number of U visa petitions filed each year, it is expected that the wait will continue to skyrocket. Some good news is that USCIS has agreed to institute a parole program in FY2017 so that U petitioners, particularly those who are stuck outside of the United States, can travel and enter the U.S. to be reunited with their family members. In relation to asylum cases, Human Rights First recently issued a report discussing the ballooning backlogs in asylum adjudications at USCIS and in immigration court that leave refugees at risk, prolong family separation, and strand some families in dangerous situations abroad.
What Can Attorneys Do to Help?
Attorneys are uniquely positioned to assist immigrant survivors in a number of ways:
Furthermore, attorneys can influence local policies for immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual abuse in their own communities, by:
Written by AILA’s VAWA, Us, and Ts Committee Co-Chair Robin Dalton and Committee Members Teresa Messer and Mirella Ceja-Orozco
Note: Today is Purple Thursday, when people across the country are wearing purple to raise awareness about domestic violence. To learn more about how attorneys are helping domestic violence survivors, watch Committee Co-Chair Robin Dalton describe her experience assisting immigrants in AILA’s October Interview of the Month.
Source: AILA Leadership Blog