Immigration Q&A: Abusive Marriage, Legal Permanent Residence: Help is Available

Q. My sister is in the US in undocumented status and has been in an abusive marriage for some time. Her husband is a US citizen and has refused to cooperate with her in an application for a green card. Is there a way that she can do this on her own? Also, she is planning to leave her husband and go to a shelter. What kind of documents should she take with her when she leaves?

A. It is good that your sister is taking the initiative to deal with an untenable situation. If she needs help locating a shelter she can call Safe Link, the Massachusetts statewide domestic violence hotline, at 1-877-7785-2020, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). It also is very important for someone who has suffered abuse to have strong support and someone to talk to, including friends and family but also professional help from a social worker or counselor. Your sister can contact us at our office (617-542-7654) to speak to our counselor in confidence and explore her options.
Since she is married to a US citizen, your sister may be eligible to “self-petition” for legal permanent residence under the federal Violence against Women Act (known as VAWA). This means that she may be able to file for the green card on her own, without sponsorship or other cooperation from her husband. She can discuss this issue in complete confidence with an immigration lawyer at one of IIC’s weekly legal clinics.
It is helpful for your sister and others in similar situations to take as many of the following items as possible with them when they leave:
Identification: Driver’s license, passports, birth certificates for herself and any children.
Immigration documents: Visas for herself and children, work permits, complete records of any dealings with immigration authorities.
Husband’s information: A certified copy of her husband’s birth certificate, of his certificate of naturalization (if applicable), and of the photo/data page from his passport.
Financial information: Checkbooks, credit/debit cards, bank account books/records, safe deposit keys/records, paycheck stubs, copies of tax returns for herself and her husband, current unpaid bills.
Housing information: Lease/rental documents, house deed, mortgage payment book, insurance policies.
Public Assistance information: Documents/identity records from any public assistance programs.
Medical information: Medical records for herself and children, medications, prescriptions, health insurance cards and records.
Education information: School records for herself and children.
Personal items: Changes of clothes, address book, pictures, jewelry, items of sentimental value, children’s favorite toys and other items, keys for house, car, office.
Relationship information: Marriage license, copies of any restraining orders, any evidence of abuse, including reports from counselors, a shelter, social workers, or police.
She may have to prove to the immigration authorities that the marriage began in good faith. To do this, it is helpful for her to have letters, cards, emails, etc. that she and her exchanged, photos of the two of them together, gifts he gave her, and proof that they lived together (as shown by both names on a lease or utility bills, for example).
Visit one of our weekly legal clinics for a confidential consultation on this or any other immigration issue.
Disclaimer: These articles are published to inform generally, not to advise in individual cases. Immigration law is always subject to change. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services and US Department of State regularly amend regulations and alter processing and filing procedures. For legal advice seek the assistance of an IIC immigration specialist or an immigration lawyer.