When you begin the process of filing for U.S. residence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you must not only fill out and submit a self-petition on Form I-360 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but also submit evidence showing that you meet the VAWA eligibility requirements and qualify for relief.
This article will let you know what is required and the types of evidence you can use to support your case. (See Green Card Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Who Is Eligible to review the basics.)
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.
In addition to Form I-360, called the "Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant," you will need to include evidence that you meet all the requirements of VAWA. At the very least, this evidence should include:
Each of these is discussed more fully below. It is also helpful to include a cover letter on top of the package that describes the evidence you have submitted.
The first piece of evidence to submit is a detailed declaration describing your relationship with the U.S. citizen or LPR abuser and other details of your eligibility for VAWA. This should begin with the statement "I swear under penalty of perjury that the following is true and correct to the best of my knowledge."
The declaration should include details about how you met the abuser and how your relationship developed. It should discuss when you first met, how your relationship developed, and why you married the abuser. It should also discuss the types of abuse you suffered and when each instance of abuse occurred. It is best to include as many details, including dates, as possible.
Finally, your declaration should include a discussion of things that you do that show you are a good person. In order to qualify under VAWA, you need to show that you are a person who has "good moral character." For instance, if you volunteer, regularly go to church, temple, or mosque, support a family, or take part in other community activities, describing these will help show your good moral character.
You must also submit police clearance records from any place you have lived for at least six months during the past three years. You can get these by contacting or going to the police station in each place you lived and asking for it. Tell them it is for immigration purposes. These police clearance records help to show that you are a person of good moral character and also prove that you have not been convicted of a serious crime that might bar you from qualifying under VAWA.
In addition to the police clearance records, you can also submit signed declarations from friends and family members that talk about things you do that show you are a good person.
In order to prove your identity, you must submit a copy of your birth certificate and/or your passport.
If the abuser is a U.S. citizen, you can submit a copy of the abuser's birth certificate, U.S. passport, or certificate of naturalization. Depending on where you live, you might be able to obtain a copy of the abuser's birth certificate through the County Recorder where the abuser was born. If the abuser has already filed a petition (USCIS Form I-130) for you, submit a copy of it as evidence of his or her U.S. immigration status.
If the abuser is a green card holder, you can submit a copy of his or her green card, an I-130 approval notice from USCIS, or any other immigration document that refers to his or her status.
If you do not have any of these documents, you can file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with USCIS. The agency will send you a copy of your immigration file, which might contain some information about your spouse.
If all else fails, you can submit written, signed declarations from friends and family who know of the abuser's status.
You must also submit proof of your relationship to the abuser. If the abuser is your spouse, submit a copy of your marriage certificate. If the abuser is your parent, submit a copy of your birth certificate.
In addition, if the abuser is your spouse, you must submit documents to show that you entered the relationship in good faith: in other words, that the marriage was not a sham or fraud to get you a green card. Birth certificates of children, photographs of the two of you together, and letters or emails between you and the abuser are all good evidence.
In addition, you can submit evidence that you shared a bank account, insurance, a lease or property ownership, and so on. Even shared credit cards and phone accounts can be helpful. Declarations from family members and friends that discuss your relationship can also be helpful to complete the picture.
In order to qualify under VAWA, you must also show that you actually lived with the U.S. abuser. This can be done by submitting copies of things like leases that list both of your names, utility or phone bills that have both of your names, or school records of your children that list both of you as parents. Tax returns and pay stubs can also be used.
Basically, any documents that list both your name and the abuser's name at the same address can be helpful. If you cannot get many of these documents, you can also have friends and family members write declarations discussing the fact that you lived with the abuser.
It is crucial that you provide as much evidence as possible showing that you have suffered abuse, whether physical or emotional. Some of the best evidence of this would be police reports or restraining orders against the abuser. If the abuser was arrested or convicted of physically abusing you, you can submit court records discussing this. If you saw a doctor because of abuse, submit copies of your medical records. Similarly, if you have seen a counselor or have gone to a domestic violence shelter, you can submit evidence of that as well.
Remember, you do not have to show physical abuse in order to qualify under VAWA. Emotional or psychological abuse may be enough. If you have seen a psychologist or have been prescribed medication by a doctor due to the abuse, submit evidence of this as well.
As always, if you have difficulty obtaining this type of evidence, you can submit declarations from family members and friends who have witnessed the abuse you suffered, or to whom you have spoken about the abuse.
Preparing a compelling, well-organized set of evidence to support your VAWA self-petition can be time-consuming and challenging. Hiring an attorney to help with this task can be well worth your while.