Last week, we had a difficult VAWA case approved. It wasn’t difficult because of a lack of proof regarding domestic violence or the relationship – that was all extremely well-documented. It wasn’t even difficult because our client, we’ll call her Judy, has an order of removal. What’s made this case difficult is that Judy has a federal conviction for using a fraudulent passport.
In order to have Judy’s VAWA case approved – we’re not even talking about her eventual green card application – we had to show that she has a good moral character for at least the three years before she filed her I-360. This is true for any VAWA applicant. But what is a good moral character?
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) tells us what good moral character isn’t, which is a bit helpful. The list is found at INA § 101(f) but includes items such as prostitution, a conviction for an aggravated felony, participation in genocide, and most controlled substance convictions.
For immigrant domestic violence applicants, a conviction under INA § 101(f) doesn’t mean that they cannot be approved for VAWA, though. There may exceptions available and there may be waivers available. We have a client whose approval this past week is a perfect example of not giving up just because a criminal history looks daunting.
When VAWA was reauthorized in 2000, there was a change made that eased the good moral character self-petitioners and an act or conviction under INA § 101(f). If a waiver could be available to your client for the offense AND there is a connection between the offense and the battery or extreme cruelty, then the good moral character standard could be relaxed significantly.
A good example of would be if the abuser forced the self-petitioner to steal $10,000, telling her that if she didn’t he would report her to ICE and take away her kids. If she was arrested and convicted of an aggravated felony and could show USCIS that her spouse forced her into this criminal scheme, it would help her to get her to show she acted under duress and show that she has good moral character.
In Judy’s case, she was sentenced to a felony before she met her abusive petitioner. How did we show that she possessed good moral character and get her VAWA case approved despite this? Her felony conviction was more than three years ago, which is outside the required time-period required for VAWA. That wasn’t enough, though.
We also showed that she should have the opportunity to apply for a waiver in the future when she applies for her green card. We didn’t have to show that she would win her waiver now – just that she could apply for an I-601 waiver when she applies for her green card. Yes, that’s right, we explained the law to USCIS. Another tactic we took was to show that Judy was rehabilitated, that she is an excellent mother, and that she’s doing everything she can to comply with the law.
There’s still a lot of work to do in Judy’s case, but we have the foundation we need for her green card. If we had been intimidated by her criminal conviction, we never would have tried and now we’re on the cusp of changing her life.