Domestic violence is an issue that is highlighted every October with Domestic Violence Awareness month. Now that October has ended, and we look towards the holiday season, it is important to remember this issue continues to affect many people nationwide. For these individuals, it can be a life or death situation every day in unsafe homes and relationships. Despite these dangers, many immigrant men and women are afraid to report the abuse to law enforcement because they are not documented.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that was renewed in February provides many very important protections to immigrant survivors of domestic violence, such as U visas for victims of crimes and T visas for victims of human trafficking. However, there are gaps that allow some domestic violence victims to remain unprotected. In response to these shortcomings and other issues with the current immigration system, the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). This bipartisan bill provides many additional protections for immigrant victims of crimes and domestic violence.
The Senate's bill expands the number of available U Visas from 10,000 to 18,000 per year. Not only would this allow many more victims to obtain U Visa status, it would potentially shorten the very long waiting process. The bill also addresses economic interests of immigrant victims of domestic violence.
Many immigrant victims are forced to remain with their abusive partners because they are economically dependent. This economic dependence comes partly from the fact that many immigrant victims of domestic violence are not authorized to work and because of this, must rely on their partners for support. With existing immigration remedies, such as the VAWA Self Petitions, U Visa, and T Visa, victims are forced to wait until their applications and petitions are adjudicated to receive work authorization.
For many victims, that waiting period is a major obstacle in pursuing immigration relief. Under the Senate's bill, immigrant petitioners of VAWA Self Petitions, U Visas, and T Visas, would be able to obtain work authorization no later than 180 days after filing their petition. This change would allow immigrant victims to become economically self-reliant and would give them the ability to care for themselves and their families without relying on an abuser for economic support.
Even with economic independence, many immigrant men and women victims of violence in the United States need a safe shelter and housing after leaving an abusive relationship. The most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is after they have made the courageous decision to leave their abusive relationship. Once these men and women leave their homes, however, they are often confronted with the fact that they cannot qualify for certain housing options because of their undocumented immigration status. The Senate's bill works to close some of those holes and gives immigrant victims of violence access to public and assisted housing programs.
Although the Senate bill passed in June, the House of Representatives have not taken up immigration reform yet. Thus, the potential benefits of this bill for victims of violence remain illusory. It is important for Congress to continue to keep immigrant victims of domestic violence and other crimes in mind when deciding how to move forward with Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
For more information about comprehensive immigration reform or for any other immigration matter, please contact Grzeca Law Group, S.C. at (414) 342-3000 or visit our website at www.grzecalaw.com.