The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a wonderful protection for immigrant spouses. It allows foreign national to self-petition for their green card if they are in an abusive relationship and can meet certain requirements. The name VAWA, though, is misleading.
To be granted VAWA, there doesn’t need to be physical violence. The applicant needs to show that they were subjected to “extreme cruelty” by their spouse. You also don’t have to be a woman to apply. Admittedly, the cases that get approved most often are for women who are physically abused by men, but other people can use this form of relief, too.
Last year we met Don (not his real name). He began crying when he shared with me his story about his wife of only about one year. He had loved her from the start – she was passionate and joyful. Yet, she was a recovering substance abuser who began to use drugs again shortly after their marriage – changing her personality to cruel. She made hurtful comments about his masculinity. He felt forced to take male-enhancement drugs (despite negative side effects) to keep her happy, or at least quiet. She cheated on him, calling him from her lover’s house in moments of lucidity to ask him to come and get her. He always came to rescue her, hopeful that he could get her into treatment, but every time he mentioned it, she refused. She called him hurtful names, belittling him in front of friends, and saying that she was going to get him deported. Whatever money she earned, she turned around and spent on her habit instead of on shared living expenses. She was driving Don into serious debt.
After a year of this disparaging treatment, Don was broken. He found little value in his life and saw no hope in his situation. Yet, it was clear to me that he’d been subjected to extreme cruelty by his U.S. citizen wife. He met the basic criteria for VAWA.
In preparing the VAWA application, we emphasized how emotionally damaging his wife had been. She never laid a finger on him, but he will be forever scarred by her constant torment, taunts, and scornful behavior. He may never trust women again, he may never receive a call from an unknown number and immediately think of his wife with another man. It will certainly take him years to erase the credit card debt he amassed while they were together.
Now, 13 months after first meeting Don, he has an approved VAWA case and is on his way to becoming a lawful permanent resident. Don has a tough road of recovery ahead of him, but without the fear of immigration looming over him, I am hopeful that we made his path a little bit easier.