Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) advocates for appropriate immigration provisions in legislation which would aid both victims of domestic violence and trafficking, most of whom are women and children. In a recent letter to Congress MRS expressed with coalition partners deep concern "about victims of family violence, particularly those who are most vulnerable and unable to obtain relief from abuse, such as battered immigrant women. Although women from all ethnic, economic, or social groups suffer domestic violence, battered immigrant women are especially vulnerable, confronting great obstacles in accessing support and assistance." In May of this year, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Chairman of the NCCB Committee on Migration, released a statement on victims of trafficking. Speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops, he welcomed "congressional efforts to address, in a comprehensive manner, the heinous and growing practice of trade in human persons."
A huge legislative victory has been won! The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, H.R. 3244, was signed by the President on October 28th. This legislation, which passed Congress with overwhelming support, both improves current protections for victims of domestic violence and provides new protections for victims of trafficking and other crimes.
Summary of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act
New Visa Categories- "T" and "U" visas
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 creates two new nonimmigrant visa categories giving legal status to certain victims. The "T" visa provides legal status for up to 5,000 victims of "a severe form of trafficking in persons" each year under certain conditions.
The new "U" visa provides legal status for up to 10,000 victims of domestic violence, rape, trafficking, involuntary servitude, sexual assault, torture, and other offenses under certain conditions.
Both of the new visas provide temporary (nonimmigrant) status and work authorization to the victims and certain members of their families. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act provides opportunities for individuals with the "T" and "U" visas and certain family members to obtain permanent residency status (green card) after three years under certain conditions.
Expanded Government Benefits for Victims of Trafficking
If a trafficking victim is under the age of 18 or is over the age of 18 and has 1) obtained certification from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that s/he is willing to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking perpetrators and 2) has filed an application for a "T" visa, s/he is eligible for all federally funded programs to the same extent as refugees.
Additional Protections in the Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994 to combat domestic violence in the United States. One provision of VAWA allows immigrant women and children who are abused by their legal permanent resident or U.S. citizen spouse to apply for relief from deportation in certain situations. In 1996, changes to immigration law narrowed the forms of relief available against deportation. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 improves protections for immigrant spouses and their children contained in VAWA. Individuals can seek two forms of relief through a "self-petition" and by seeking relief from removal through "cancellation from removal." The new legislation includes the following protections:
- Protection from Bigamists. Individuals who believed that they were married to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident can now apply for immigration protection. The individual must demonstrate proof of a marriage ceremony. Previously, a battered spouse whose marriage is defective because the spouse failed to tell her/him that s/he was already married was not eligible to immigrate under VAWA of 1994.
- Protection for Those Who Have Divorced or are Widowed. The new legislation allows, under certain conditions, individuals to self-petition under the VAWA provisions if they are divorced from their abusive spouse or are the spouse of a deceased U.S. citizen so long as they file within two years of the termination of the relationship.
- Individuals Can File From Abroad. Applicants filing under the VAWA provisions living abroad who are the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident may file from outside the U.S. if the abusing spouse or parent is an employee of the United States Government, a member of the uniformed services, or if an incident of abuse occurred in the United States.
- Ability to Obtain Visa in the U.S. Applicants filing under the VAWA provisions now will be able to apply for legal permanent residency (a green card) while in the United States, regardless of whether they entered the country legally or whether they subsequently maintained lawful status in the United States. As of 1997, these applicants had to return to their country of origin to apply and subsequently were often subject to bars of inadmissability for their unlawful presence in the United States.
- No Need To Show "Extreme Hardship". Individuals applying for protections under the VAWA provisions do not need to prove that they will suffer "extreme hardship" if forced to leave the U.S. Previously, this proof of "extreme hardship" excluded many battered spouses from remaining in the U.S.
- Remarriage Will Not Result in Loss of a Petition. Abused immigrants with approved self-petitions may now remarry without causing their petition to be revoked.
- Certain Waivers to Inadmissibility Restored. The legislation includes new waivers to inadmissibility in certain circumstances, including re-entry into the country illegally after a one-year period of unlawful presence or after having been removed from the U.S. This provision was necessary for those who left the country for reasons connected with the abuse they suffered. The legislation also helps those individuals who were convicted of domestic violence if the abused can show that s/he was not the primary perpetrator of the violence. There also are waivers on health-related grounds and fraud or misrepresentation.
- Softening the "Good Moral" Character Requirements Where the Offense Arose From the Battering. The new legislation exempts certain acts of individuals from being considered towards the "good moral character" requirement, as outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act. This new provision was necessary to help certain individuals whose acts were connected with the abuse they suffered.
- Brief Absences Related to the Abusive Relationship Will Not Block Proof of "Continuous Presence". Applicants for cancellation of removal under the VAWA provisions now have a less stringent "continual presence"in the United States requirement . This new provision seeks to help those individuals whose absence from the U.S. is connected with the abuse they suffered from the perpetrator.
- Public Charge Exception for Specific Benefits. Individuals benefitting under VAWA provisions may now receive cash and other government assistance without be considered as "public charges" in immigration determinations.
- Battered Spouses Can Reopen Cases Where There Is New Relief. Individuals who for the first time will become eligible for VAWA "suspension from deportation" or "cancellation of removal" because of the new changes in the law may reopen their cases. They may file a motion to reopen within one year of the entry of a final order of removal. This one-year limit may be waived in extraordinary circumstances or in cases of extreme hardship to a child.
- Relief Under HRIFA, NACARA, and the Cuban Adjustment Act. Abused spouses or children who are dependents of individuals eligible for immigration relief under the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), and the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) may qualify to adjust their status without having to reside or maintain a relationship with the abuser.
- Parole Status for Children and Parents of Abused. The new legislation grants parole status to the children or parents of individuals who are granted VAWA "suspension from deportation" or "cancellation of removal". The Attorney General is required to parole these individuals whether they are inside or outside the U.S.
- Children No Longer "Age Out". Children who filed a self-petition or who benefit under their parent's petition no longer "age out" of their eligibility, or become subject to normal family visa rules, when they become 21 years old.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act authorizes STOP grants and Civil Legal Assistance to assist battered immigrants. The legislative history clarifies that legal assistance encompasses family, immigration, protection, and other similar matters.
For More Information
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act is an extensive piece of legislation which will expand immigration protections for thousands of vulnerable individuals. For more information on its provisions, contact the MRS Policy Office at 202-541-3208 at the U.S. Catholic Conference's Migration and Refugee Services. For individual legal assistance, please contact an immigration attorney. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) can provide a referral for immigration services in your area. CLINIC can be reached at www.cliniclegal.org., 202-635-2556 (phone), or email firstname.lastname@example.org.