Inside HRI: The Women and Children’s Program

HRI has been helping asylum seekers and victims of domestic violence for the last 11 years. Since then we have evolved, providing free legal services in a variety of ways specific to the Women and Children’s Program. The free legal services are available after a financial screening and client intake.

Under the Women and Children’s Program, we are able to help immigrants who are victims of domestic violence at the hands of their Legal Permanent Resident or a United States Citizen, spouse or parent, through the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA). Despite its name, the act can help women, men, and children through a couple of different ways, depending on where they are in their immigration process.

If you have no legal status, the first step is to see if you qualify to apply for legal residency through the VAWA Self Petition. In order to do this, the immigrant must show that they were abused by their spouse or parent (physically or mentally), lived with the abuser in the United States, have good moral character and that they married their spouse in good faith.

If approved for permanent residency under a VAWA Self Petition, an immigrant may qualify for Adjustment of Status.  When they may apply is dependent on if they were married to a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident.

The most common scenario we see at HRI is a situation where the abusive spouse was either a Permanent Resident or a U.S. citizen. If you were married to an abusive Permanent Resident, you must wait until there is a visa available for you to adjust your status to Permanent Resident. During this time, the immigrant will be given the status of “deferred action” that is renewable until there is a visa available. If you were married to a U.S. citizen, you do not have to wait until there is a visa available as long as you have an approved VAWA Self Petition from the SCIS.

HRI has increasingly seen clients who have already petitioned and obtained Conditional Permanent Residence by their spouse and now find themselves in an abusive relationship and need help, but fear they will lose their legal status by leaving their spouse.

As a conditional resident, the United States Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) gives only permanent resident status for two years. After that time period, immigrants must present a request for removal of condition 90 days before the expiration of the two-year permanent resident card.  HRI is helping individuals with Conditional Permanent Residence by assisting with an I-751 Form, which will extend their legal status to allow them to become eligible to adjust their status. Much like the VAWA Self Petition requirements, the immigrant must show they were abused, lived with the abuser in the United States, have good moral character and married in good faith. Additionally, the Conditional Permanent Resident may also show that the marriage was terminated through a divorce or cancellation because of the abuse, or proof that return to original country puts the immigrant in direct personal danger or persecution.

While VAWA covers different scenarios besides the ones mentioned above, it is best to consult with an attorney to determine your eligibility. Always keep in mind that the purpose of VAWA is to provide domestic violence survivors with the means that are essential to escaping violence and establishing safe, independent lives.

Violence Against Women’s Act is only one of the focuses of The Women and Children’s Program. Keep reading our blog for more details on our Women and Children’s Program, Our Asylum Program and HRI in general.

For more information on the Women and Children’s Program services, click here.

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