In FY2012, Human Rights Initiative heard 32 VAWA cases with a 100% approval rating, where the national approval rating is only 79.2%
VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, is a federal law that enables undocumented immigrants who have suffered domestic abuse to file for immigration relief without the assistance of their abusive spouses. To file under VAWA, the victim must prove that she married in good faith either a U.S. citizen or LPR (someone with a green card) and that she was abused and subject to battery or extreme cruelty during her marriage. The process for VAWA allows the victims to file without their spouse’s knowledge. VAWA approval goes far in helping the victims and their children in starting a new life. When VAWA protection is granted, the victims get employment authorization, qualify for certain government benefits, and may qualify to file for LPR status.
Here are a few stories of the women we have assisted.
Karen is a graduate of the University of Cartegena in Columbia, the mother of a beautiful little boy, and a survivor of domestic violence. Despite having many fears about what would happen if she left her husband, Karen made the risky decision to seek help. Karen met her husband through a social media website. He presented himself to her as a respectful person who was committed to his faith. Over the period of a year, Karen developed a relationship with him through the website. They quickly became engaged and were married shortly thereafter. Throughout their engagement he always appeared the perfect gentleman and Karen’s family and friends were pleased with her new husband. However, after leaving her home in Columbia and arriving in Texas with him things began to change. He began to attack her verbally and psychologically and to refuse to allow Karen access to money or even the telephone. Things escalated and the physical violence began. She was threatened with retaliation if she told anyone. She lived in a state of constant terror because of his threats and felt as though she was at his mercy in a country where she did not have anyone. Not long after, Karen learned that she was pregnant. She hoped that the baby would bring them together as a family. Unfortunately, the abuse escalated. She was violently attacked and sexually assaulted. When the time came to deliver the baby, she was barraged with verbal abuse and as a consequence was not able to give birth normally and had to undergo a Cesarean section. When she left the hospital he refused to buy the medication prescribed by her doctor to ease the pain after surgery, obligating her to suffer. The level of abuse reached new heights, and the baby became a victim. Karen decided to take control and called the police. With the help of the police, friends, family and local women’s services providers, Karen was able to seek out pediatric help for her child and escape the violence. Through the efforts HRI, she became a permanent resident of the United States in January 2013. She is now eligible to freely travel outside of the United States and to eventually become a U.S. Citizen.
Here is a quote from her- “Today I no longer feel alone in this country, and I know that there is help for women like me that were victims. Now I can say I am a survivor of domestic violence, and that my son and I are never going to be a headline in the news or a fatal statistic.”
Caitlin was granted Deferred Action under the Violence Against Women Act in December 2012. Caitlin came to the United States to visit her sister in 1998 with a visa and decided to stay in search of a better life. Caitlin has two young daughters, and she works full-time to support them. Caitlin married a U.S. citizen, and they had a daughter. After they had their first child and throughout their relationship, her husband was verbally, physically, and sexually abusive. He also began to excessively drink and became an alcoholic. Throughout their relationship, Caitlin’s husband would verbally abuse the children, and he could not hold a job, so Caitlin had to continue to work and support the family. Caitlin eventually moved out, separated from her husband, and filed her VAWA application, which was approved in December. Caitlin can now legally work in the United States, provide for her daughters, and no longer live in fear of her husband.
Ella is a 45-year-old woman originally from Mexico, who met her husband, Jose, when she was 18 and going to school. Jose had a green card and would frequently return to Mexico to visit Ella. The couple married after dating for three years. After their wedding, Jose filled out immigration paperwork for Ella to come to the U.S., she felt that all her dreams were coming true. The couple had two children. Ella would frequently ask Jose about her immigration paperwork because she was not sure what she signed due to her lack of English and learning disabilities. Jose would become agitated whenever Ella asked about her immigration paperwork, so she quit asking. Instead she went about her daily routine of cooking, cleaning, and caring for her family.
Suddenly after six years of marriage, Jose began going out every night with male friends and started becoming physically abusive towards Ella, hitting, slapping and pulling her hair. When Ella questioned why he was always leaving the house, Jose would hit her and told her to stop asking questions since he was providing for the family. Jose also isolated Ella from her family in Mexico, not allowing her to contact them and making up excuses whenever her family called. One day Jose told her that he no longer loved her and she should find someone else who did. Ella was dumbfounded, especially since she had no friends or family in the U.S. She had no money and nowhere to go.
Jose’s physical abuse escalated; he would lock Ella and their children in a bedroom or closet whenever his friends visited. Their imprisonment would sometimes last for days. Ella soon discovered Jose was gay and was living a secret life. He threatened to have Ella deported if she or the kids called the police. Ella decided to confront her in-laws and her brother-in-law pointed a gun to her head and threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone Jose was gay. Her actions enraged her husband, who beat her until she passed out. Jose then locked her in a bedroom for a week feeding her like an animal from a dish on the floor. Shortly thereafter, he threw Ella and the children out of the house. Ella had met a friend on a bus and stayed with her until she could get her own apartment. Jose threats continued forcing Ella to get a restraining order against him. She also got an order forcing Jose to pay child support, but he has never paid any child support for his children.
Human Rights Initiative filed her case under VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) to ensure Ella would be able to remain in the U.S. with a Green Card after escaping from Jose. This puts Ella on the path to citizenship. These days, Ella is working as a room attendant at a chic hotel, taking ESL classes, and a learning disabilities class. She has full custody of her children and they all attend counseling sessions. With her approved VAWA Ella is able to financially support her children and provide them with a loving and stable home. She hopes that her children will attend college in the future and escape the cycle of abuse they experienced.