My abusive husband threatens to stop sponsoring me for a green card -- what can I do?

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Question:

I'm married to a U.S. citizen who mistreats me both physically and emotionally. He started the process of applying for my green card, but the application is still pending. I'm afraid he'll refuse to continue with the green card process if I call the police or leave him. More than that, I'm afraid he'll take the kids and let the immigration authorities deport me. What do I do?

Answer:

This must feel like quite a trap -- stay with your husband and be abused, or leave him and be deported and separated from your children. Luckily, the folks in Congress have provided an escape from this trap.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows battered women (or men) who are married to U.S. citizens and permanent residents to use a special "self-petition" to apply for their green card.

That means you won't have to depend on your abusive husband for anything -- not the initial petition, not the signatures, not the promises of financial support, and not even his showing up at the interview. And, you can make use of this law and convert your application to a "self-petition" at any point in the process.

You'll want to get help with this. The self-petition involves not only filling out a form, but attaching documents proving a number of things. The most important of these have to do with your husband's citizenship status (though if he already sent in the initial "I-130" petition, this has been taken care of); your bona fide marriage; and the abuse you suffered. For information and referrals, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-799-SAFE. They also have a website, at www.ndvh.org.

But just in case you have to flee your home in a hurry, think now about any personal documents or evidence you could take with you for your self-petition. Better yet, collect things now and leave them with a friend. For example, your passport and any immigration documents; photos of you with your husband, or of you with bruises and other signs of abuse; your journal, calendar, or other record of how your husband mistreated you and when; even threatening notes or answering machine tapes by your husband will all be very useful later. Ultimately you'll have to gather additional evidence, such as police reports and hospital records. Good luck.

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