If I Report My Permanent Resident Spouse for Domestic Violence, Will He Get Deported?

Someone in an abusive situation must protect their own safety, but also their own immigration status, in a situation where their would-be sponsor could get deported for domestic violence.

By , Attorney · Temple University Beasley School of Law

An immigrant living in the United States whose green-card holding spouse becomes violent or abusive might face conflicting emotions. On the one hand, they are likely shocked, upset, and scared for themselves and any children. On the other hand, they might be hoping their spouse will turn things around, perhaps stop drinking, such that living with them will continue to be possible. But if the spouse is in the United States on a green card (is an "LPR"), and the immigrant takes out a restraining order or files a police report, that raises a risk that the LPR will be deported. What will happen them?

This article describes the likelihood of a foreign national being deported for domestic violence and the consequences for the victimized spouse (who might already be a U.S. citizen or green card holder, but might also be undocumented, lacking immigration status in the United States.)

Impact on an Immigrant When Spouse Files for a TRO

Asking a judge to issue a protective or "restraining" order (TRO) to prevent a spouse's future violence (literally, to prevent the spouse coming near them) could be a good idea for one's own safety. Better yet, permanent residents cannot be deported simply because a spouse files for a protective order against them.

Impact on an Immigrant of Being Convicted for Domestic Violence

The decision about whether or not to press criminal charges against a spouse can be a difficult one, but it should not be dismissed simply out of worry regarding immigration consequences.

It's true that conviction for a domestic violence-related offense—even if only a misdemeanor—could make a noncitizen deportable under U.S. law. Domestic violence crimes include stalking, child abuse, neglect or abandonment, violation of a restraining order made against credible threats of violence, and repeated harassment or bodily injury. Even if the charges or conviction aren't for domestic violence, the acts could be viewed as an "aggravated felony" or a "crime of moral turpitude," which can also be a basis for deportation.

To learn more, please read Crimes that Will Make an Immigrant Deportable.

Options for Undocumented Immigrant Spouse Who Is a Victim of Domestic Violence

Under ordinary circumstances, an immigrant who is relying on an LPR spouse to sponsor them for a green card could lose that possibility if the spouse is deported from the United States. But a victim of abuse is facing extraordinary circumstances, and some viable options are potentially open to them.

One is to self-petition for a green card; in other words, step into the sponsor's shoes, by filing Form I-360 instead of Form I-130. This is a "VAWA" self-petition, which will require proving that it was a bona fide (not fraudulent) marriage to an LPR, that the abuse actually occurred, and so on. For details, see Green Card Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Who Is Eligible.

Another possibility, if you report your abusive spouse to police and they need you to provide further testimony or evidence or serve as a witness in court, is to apply for a U visa. Depending on how long your role in assisting U.S. law enforcement lasts, this can eventually lead to a green card as well. See U Visas for Crime Victims Assisting Law Enforcement: Who Is Eligible.

Getting Legal Help

If you yourself are an immigrant reliant on an abuser to help secure your status in the United States, a licensed, experienced immigration attorney can be a huge help in evaluating your legal situation and options. Fortunately, many nonprofit organizations offer free or low-cost services to victims of abuse.

See, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)'s website, at the page called Find Legal Representation. There, you will be able to access a list of free or low-cost legal service providers, sorted by state. You still might need to do a lot of calling around, however. Many such service providers have a huge client load.

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