How Abused Adopted Children of U.S. Citizens or Residents Can Get VAWA Green Card

To prevent adoptive U.S. citizen or permanent resident parents from controlling their children through abuse as well as threats to stop helping them obtain a green card, VAWA allows abused adopted children to self-petition for status.

The immigration law known as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides immigration benefits to adopted children of U.S. citizens (USC) or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) who have been abused by their USC or LPR adoptive parent. VAWA helps such children by reducing their reliance on abusive parents for assistance with the application process for LPR status (a green card).

It allows these abused adopted children to submit a “self-petition” in place of the petition that the parents would normally file for them (but may not have done, being uncooperative or using this as a means to control the child), and then to continue on with the application for a green card on their own. The entire process can be completed without the help of their adoptive parent and without having to remain in that adoptive parent’s custody or residence for any specified amount of time.

NOTE: When looking for help as a victim of abuse, remember to consider how private your computer, Internet, and phone use are. Consider whether there's anything you can and should do to prevent someone else from learning that you’re doing research or seeking help. Some victims, for instance, might use the same computer or device as the abuser, or might have a phone plan that allows the abuser to see the calls they make and receive. Other kinds of technology, like home security cameras and GPS in phones and cars, can also allow for monitoring by the abuser.

Who Is Eligible to Self-Petition Under VAWA as an Abused Adopted Child

To self-petition for a green card under VAWA as an abused adopted child, you must meet the following requirements:

  1. Your adoptive parent must be (or have been) a USC or LPR. Even if the abuse occurred before the adoptive parent became a USC or LPR, or after the parent subsequently lost status, you can still file a petition under VAWA. If the adoptive parent lost LPR status as the result of a criminal conviction for the abuse (domestic battery, for example), you must submit the petition under VAWA, if you choose to do so, within two years of the loss of status.
  2. The adoption must have been completed before your 16th birthday. If the adoption was completed after your 16th birthday, but before your 18th birthday, you will still qualify if you have a birth sibling who was adopted by the same adoptive parent before the sibling’s 16th birthday.
  3. You must have resided with the abusive adoptive parent in the same household for some period of time. VAWA does not require the abused child to stay in the abusive household for any set amount of time – just that the child resided there at some point. (Before VAWA was changed in 2005, adopted children were required to remain in custody and reside with the adoptive parent for at least two years – but this is no longer a requirement.)
  4. You must have been abused by the USC or LPR adoptive parent. Current immigration law requires that the adopted child have been “battered or subject to extreme cruelty” by the USC or LPR adoptive parent. What USCIS considers abuse is broad and open to interpretation. The abuse can be, but is not limited to, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Threats of deportation by the adoptive parent can also be considered abuse. Even the child witnessing abusive acts against another family member in the household could be considered extreme cruelty. When deciding whether abuse has occurred, USCIS looks at all the evidence submitted.
  5. You must reside in the United States. Unless you are living abroad with your abuser who is an employee of the U.S. government or armed services or the abuse occurred in the United States before you left, you are required to file the petition while living in the United States.
  6. If you are over 14 years old, you must show that you are a person of good moral character. The U.S. government makes its determination regarding good moral character by looking at your past behavior, such as any criminal history, habitual drunkenness, illegal gambling, lying under oath, or harming others.

Proving Eligibility to Self-Petition Under VAWA as Abused Adopted Child

As part of the application process, you must provide documentary evidence demonstrating that you meet all the requirements to self-petition under VAWA as an adopted abused child.

A copy of the adoption decree is the best way to show you were legally adopted. This will also show the date when the adoption was completed, thus allowing immigration officials to see that it occurred prior to your 16th birthday (or 18th birthday in some cases). A copy of your amended birth certificate, showing your adoptive parents’ names, will also be helpful to show that a legal adoption occurred.

A copy of your adoptive parent’s birth certificate or permanent resident card will also be necessary to establish that he or she is or was a USC or LPR.

In some cases, where the best evidence is not available, you may be able to provide a sworn written statement from someone who can swear to the facts you are trying to prove. This evidence is not as strong as a certified copy or original document, and therefore should be used only as a last resort and accompanied by other evidence that supports the written statement.

Proof that you resided in the same household as the abusive adoptive parent can be shown by providing mail that has both your name and your adoptive parent’s name and address; school or medical records that list your information and the adoptive parent’s name and contact information; insurance records with your name and your adoptive parent’s name; and/or a sworn statement from someone with personal knowledge that you resided with the adoptive parent at some point.

Evidence to show that you were abused by your adoptive parent can include police reports or court records (if any) and/or sworn statements from police officers, judges, case workers, or other professionals who may have assisted you with your case. If you were treated for physical and/or mental injuries because of abuse suffered, you can provide pertinent records or reports, as well. If you are able, you can also give a sworn written statement explaining the abuse you suffered.

If you were removed from your home by a court order, a copy of that court order and any statements as to why you were removed from the home will be helpful in showing abuse. You can also provide photos of any visible physical injuries, accompanied by your sworn statement as to the authenticity of the photos and what they show.

If you were a witness to abuse against a sibling or parent in your household, you can provide police reports, pictures, or sworn statements about the abuse the direct victim suffered.

If you are over 14 years old, you must show that you are a person of good moral character. Generally, this is shown by the absence of a criminal record or any record of having been a habitual drunkard or illegal gambler, lied under oath, or persecuted or harmed others.

Providing a certified clearance letter from your local police department is the best way to show you do not have a criminal record. If you have had any arrests or convictions, you may need to provide a sworn statement explaining any incident(s) that appear on your record.

Application Process for a VAWA Green Card

The process for obtaining a green card as an abused adopted child under VAWA is the almost the same as for a spouse or biological child. The only procedural difference has to do with the evidence you will provide with your application to prove that the adoption was legal and completed prior to your 16th birthday (or 18th birthday if you have a birth sibling who was adopted by the same parent prior to his or her 16th birthday).

For a step-by-step guide to applying for a green card without the help of an abusive adoptive parent, please see Nolo’s article, “Application Process for a VAWA Green Card.”

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