If you are applying for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card) under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), actual abuse within the U.S. by your U.S. citizen spouse- or parent-petitioner is one of the key facts that you will need to prove. (It's not the only thing you will need to prove; see "Proving Your VAWA Case: Evidence to Submit" for details on the remaining types of evidence.) This need not be limited to physical abuse; cruelty and efforts at control count, as well.
Safety and Privacy Considerations for Victims
Be sure to consider the privacy of your computer, smartphone, or tablet when seeking help online or over the phone. Some victims might use the same device, network, or phone plan as the abuser, allowing the abuser to see the victim's search or call history or otherwise track their activity. Many smart devices contain cameras or GPS tracking that can be used to locate and monitor your whereabouts. An abuser can even slip a small tracking device in your car, bag, pocket, or other belongings without your knowledge. If you're concerned about your privacy or safety, several organizations provide assistance and resources, including National Domestic Violence Hotline and RAINN. You can also check out our Resources for Victims of Crime.
What Counts as Abuse for VAWA Purposes
Exactly how you prove to the satisfaction of USCIS that you were the subject of abuse in the U.S. depends in part on the type of abuse. To qualify under the law, it can be battery or extreme cruelty; for example physical violence, threats or display or a weapon, rape, incest, or unwanted sexual contact or interaction, forced detention, forced prostitution, psychological abuse or harassment, or other forms of extreme cruelty, even without actual violence.
Finding Good Forms of Proof of Having Been a Victim of Abuse
The facts of your particular situation will play a major role in the types of evidence you can come up with. Do not worry that you must have any one particular type of document. Many different types of documents, photos, reports, and statements, in combination with each other, will work to prove this aspect of your case. Below are some ideas.
- Police reports and abuser's arrest records. If you ever called the police on your abuser based on domestic violence or other violence at your house or against your property, a report was likely made, and you can request a copy of it. You might, however, have to show an identity document; provide information about the abuser, such as name and birthdate; and remember the approximate date of the incident.
- Police statements. Officers who visited you relatively recently because of a domestic violence call might be willing to write up a declaration or statement about what they saw. This will likely contain more useful detail than a police report.
- Transcripts of emergency calls. If you called 911 or an equivalent emergency number, a recording of this was likely made, and possibly can be printed out. These are typically available to the public, after providing information about the date and time and paying a fee.
- Court orders (restraining, stay away, or protection). If you were able to get a court order stating that your abuser was to stay away from you, this is excellent evidence of abuse. By providing some personal information, you should be able to obtain a copy. Or, if a lawyer helped you obtain that order, ask the lawyer's office for a copy.
- Doctor or hospital records. If you were treated for injuries resulting from the abuse at any clinic, doctor's office, emergency room, or the like, a record was no doubt made of your visit. You have a right to a copy of your medical records. These are excellent evidence even if you didn't mention the abuse at the time (many victims of battery are afraid or embarrassed to state the true cause of their injuries). You will, however, want to attach a declaration to your application (as discussed below) explaining why you didn't tell the medical staff about the true cause of your injuries.
- Recent medical report about long-term injuries. Even if you didn't go to a doctor at the time of the abuse, a doctor might be able to examine you now and write up a report about long-term injury to your body that you have suffered, such as facial alterations or a limp.
- Psychiatric or therapeutic records. If you have seen a psychiatrist, therapist, counselor, or other mental health or social worker about emotional or mental issues in any way connected to the abuse, those records will also be helpful. Again, the abuse need not have been physical. If your records show discussions of how your U.S. spouse behaved cruelly toward you, attempted to control your life or gain complete compliance from you, and so on, this will be important evidence.
- Declaration from psychiatrist or therapist. Your mental health professional might be able to write a summary statement about issues that you have discussed around the abuse, your marriage or other relationship with the abuser, stress that you were under because of your family situation, the consistency of your statements and symptoms with that of abuse victims in general, and so forth.
- Shelter records. If you ever visited, consulted, or spent time in a battered women's or domestic violence shelter, it will have records of your statements and the length of your visit. For obvious reasons, the shelter will want to be extra careful about releasing the information, so you will have to be ready to prove your identity and explain your reason for requesting this material.
- Declaration from shelter staff. If you got to know any staff people or volunteers at the shelter particularly well, and they would remember you or details of your case, you might want to ask them to write up a declaration discussing this.
- Declaration from pastor or religious leader. If you ever sought advice about the abuse from a priest, minister, rabbi, or other person from your faith community, that person might be willing to write up a declaration detailing your conversations.
- Phone records. If the abuser was harassing you by means of frequent phone calls or texts, help prove this with documentation from the telephone company or carrier or screenshots of messages.
- School records. If a child (either the victim of abuse or a family member) mentioned what was going on to a teacher, principal, or other staff person at school, it's possible that they made a record of it. Contact the school to find out how to obtain such records.
- Photos. If you or a friend took pictures showing your bruising or other injuries or casts over broken bones, these will also serve as evidence. Be sure to include an explanation of when and why the photo was taken and what type of abuse caused the injuries shown.
- Emails or notes from the abuser. If they wrote any threatening, controlling, or cruel material, or even an apology for past behavior, these are excellent evidence of abuse.
- Declarations from friends, neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances. Anyone who heard or saw the abuser controlling you, behaving in a cruel manner, beating you, and so on; or to whom you spoke about what you were suffering; can write a declaration explaining this.
- Declaration from you. You should tell the whole story of whatever physical abuse and cruelty you suffered, along with filling in any needed details surrounding the other parts of your claim.
For information on preparing a basic declaration, see Creating Substitute Documents or Affidavits for Immigration Applications. Declarations from witnesses in a VAWA case will, however, need to be much longer and more detailed than the sample one shown in that article. The writer should explain their relationship to the VAWA applicant, the approximate dates or time span of your interactions and conversations, and as much as possible about any observations of what happened between the abuser and you or remembrances of what you described or complained of.
If you still feel you don't have enough proof of having suffered abuse, seek help from a nonprofit or attorney who serves immigrants.