Jackie + Frank
VAWA is a federal law meant to protect undocumented immigrant survivors of domestic abuse by allowing them to apply for immigration relief without the assistance of their abusive spouse. Jackie’s ex-husband, Frank, abused her physically, sexually, verbally, and psychologically for nearly 20 years. Jackie was born in Mexico, but moved to the U.S. when she was five years old. The two met and married in Gainesville, Texas when Jackie was 17 years old. Frank was a legal permanent resident (LPR) when they met and quickly became abusive. Frank exhibited extreme jealousy and a desire to control Jackie before, during, and after their marriage.
Over the years, the family moved around Texas and the country, but Frank’s troubling behavior stayed the same. Frank would threaten Jackie with knives, pull her hair, shout at her, limit her access to money, monitor the car’s gas tank, and interfere with her work. He told her she could not go back to school and didn’t support her during at least one of her four pregnancies. Frank also attacked their youngest son, Jackie’s brother-in-law, and repeatedly threatened her family. Frank would frequently hurt Jackie and then cry and apologize, begging for her to take him back. Sometimes he called the police to report himself, and other times he would hit himself the way he had hit her to show that he was sorry. She tried to leave him several times, but she always took him back –afraid of what would happen if she didn’t. Frank threatened to kill himself and Jackie, if he couldn’t be with her no one could. After their divorce in 2012, the abuse didn’t stop, Frank’s threats to kill himself continued. During one specific incident, after the divorce, Frank found Jackie at a pharmacy, followed her home, and then stabbed himself in front of her. He often bribed the children with gifts, forcing them to choose sides and to turn against their mother. In 2013 Frank committed suicide –his dying wishes were that his absence would permanently scar and control Jackie’s life.
When Jackie’s visa petition was first rejected in February of 2015, HRI initiated an appeal. The petition was denied because Jackie’s unique circumstances created an issue with the requirement that the petitioner and the spouse have a qualifying relationship. HRI argued that Jackie did have a qualifying relationship being that Frank successfully petitioned for a visa on her behalf, which was granted to her –establishing a qualifying relationship in 2007.
HRI’s petition was denied yet again in November of 2015. Although Jackie and Frank had a qualifying relationship, Frank was technically not an LPR at the time of Jackie’s VAWA petition. LPR lose their status after death. This did not, however, deter our legal team from pursuing the relief that Jackie so badly deserved. HRI filed another appeal, arguing that Frank’s status had been lost due to circumstances of abuse itself. There is an exception in the VAWA clause which allows for spouses of former LPR to petition for a visa despite their loss of LPR status if the loss was caused by the abuse. Usually in a case like this, that a former LPR holder may have been deported because of an arrest related to the abuse inflicted. HRI successfully argued that Frank’s suicide was part of the pattern of abuse, and as such, he lost his LPR status through an act that was related to the abuse. U.S. CIS again denied the application stating that the suicidal tendencies did not occur until after the couple had divorced. Incessantly, HRI filed a Motion to Reconsider producing additional evidence from Jackie and her children about Frank’s suicidal threats from before the divorce, proving that he had hurt himself many times before as an act of domestic violence before the divorce was filed. This innovative argument won the day in 2016; nearly two years after Jackie started the visa petition process.
HRI for the Win
HRI received approval of a long-awaited and hard-earned visa through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Jackie is now living safely and earning a living in the U.S. –this is what it is all about.
-Catherine, Summer 2016 Legal Intern