Improved Protections Under VAWA for Battered Immigrants

The House finally passed the Senate’s bipartisan bill reinstating and extending the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for another 5 years. The bill passed after many months of long and heated debates with 87 Republicans and 199 Democrats voting for the bill. This was after the Republican version of the bill was defeated.

Since its passage 19 years ago, various provisions have been incorporated in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to provide better protection to vulnerable immigrants mostly women and children from the crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

When it was initially passed in 1994, VAWA allowed battered immigrants to self-petition. The process provided victims of battery and extreme cruelty to file a petition independent of their abusive spouse/relative.

When it was later reauthorized in 2000, it created the U and T visas which protected victims of violent crimes and sexual assault or trafficking, respectively. The U visa allowed victims of qualifying crimes, mostly undocumented women and children who are victims of domestic abuse and rape, to remain legally in the U.S. and assist in the investigation and prosecution of the crimes. These protections were further expanded when the VAWA was reauthorized in 2005.

With the passage of this bipartisan Senate bill this year, no new immigration benefits are created but improvements to the current immigration protections are introduced. The bill is in stark contrast to the failed bill introduced by the Republicans which did not give enough protections to gay communities, Native Americans and undocumented residents against sexual and domestic abuse.

One of the more important provisions under the bill is preventing children of U visa holders from aging out. Under the current law, aliens who file for U visa may include their spouse and their children below 21 years of age in the petition. The bill clarified that the children are still qualified to receive immigration benefits under their parent’s petition even if they turn 21 years of age and the application is still pending.

The bill also includes “stalking” as one of the qualifying crimes under the U visa. Under the current law, qualifying criminal activities under the U visa are crimes which vulnerable immigrants are often targeted such as sexual exploitation, extortion, domestic violence, among others.

Another significant improvement is protecting foreign fiancé(e)s/ spouses of U.S. citizens by providing vital disclosures regarding any violent criminal histories of sponsoring U.S. fiancé(e)s/spouses and as well as other information they need to protect themselves from entering abusive marriages.

The bill further provides that self-petitions under VAWA will extend to surviving minor children of the self-petitioner when the abusive spouse dies after filing of the petition. The bill also extends hardship waivers for conditional residents in case of invalid bigamous marriages of U.S. citizen or LPR spouse. It also clarifies the individuals who are exempt from public charge inadmissibility grounds which include the VAWA self-petitioner, a U visa petitioner or holder, among others.

The reauthorization of VAWA with its improved protections will without doubt further serve and safeguard vulnerable immigrants from being victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence and other crimes. The bill is now on its way to the President’s desk where it will be signed into law.