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Domestic violence is a crime no one is immune to. No matter a person’s class, status or background, abuse still chooses a victim every nine seconds in the U.S. And when that victim is an illegal immigrant, they often think they have nowhere to turn. Afraid of deportation, they stay silent, enduring the violence regardless of how severe it becomes.
In May of this year, a 25-year-old undocumented immigrant victim told authorities a man had held her captive since she was 15 years old. She had endured physical abuse, including rape, for over a decade. Her kidnapper threatened that she and her family would be deported if she went to the police. The man was arrested and charged with felony counts of forcible rape, lewd acts on a minor and kidnapping to commit a sexual offense, reported The Daily Beast. The woman was not deported and her kidnapper now faces life in prison.
Many illegal immigrant victims don’t realize they are protected under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
In 2013, President Obama signed into law an expansion on VAWA, which was originally created in 1994, to allow for protection of undocumented immigrant victims of domestic abuse. The expansion protects those who are the former or current spouse, parent or child of a resident of U.S. citizen and are being abused by that resident or citizen, from persecution and deportation. VAWA also offers these victims the protections of shelters and restraining orders, regardless of immigration status.
Here are some of the key things victims must be prepared to do. First, keep a paper trail of the abuse (police reports, restraining orders and other evidence the abuse has been occurring), and be willing to help the authorities with the investigation into the abuse. Next, they must be or have been in a qualifying relationship with the abuser, reside or resided with the abuser and be of good moral character, according to this U.S. Department of Homeland Security brochure. They may then eligible to apply for a green card without needing the abuser to file for immigration benefits on their behalf, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Victims can self-petition for the U nonimmigrant status, or U visa, which offers immigration protection, by filing Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, www.uscis.gov. A law enforcement official is required to certify the form. Qualifying family members of the victim may also be able to apply for this benefit.
Domestic violence is not the only crime that allows illegal immigrants to apply for the U nonimmigrant visa. Other crimes that deem a victim eligible include rape, abduction, sexual abuse, incest, human trafficking, slave trade, as well as other related crimes.
There is more information on escaping violence in the domesticshelters.org article area.
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