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October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. For those of you who might not know a lot about immigration and domestic violence, it is important to know that Raksha deals with many spouses who are here on H4 visas or might be undocumented.
While H-4 Spouses are legally here, they are not allowed to work. This means they are dependent on their abuser or abuser's employer for their immigration status. If the battered spouse goes to shelter and leaves their abuser, they don't legally have a way to earn money to support themselves or their children. Undocumented victims/survivors might not have status for a number of reasons, which could include but is not limited to their abuser not filing for them, their visa expiring, or their abuser brought them in with a false or fake visa. Raksha connects many of the immigrant victims and survivors to many non-profit legal organizations and private attorneys to help assess if the individuals are eligible for immigration relief under the Violence Against Women Act. One relief highlight here is called the U Visa, also known as a crime victim’s visa.
The Violence Against Women Act 2000 (VAWA 2000) created a nonimmigrant visa for certain battered noncitizens and other crime victims not protected by the original Violence Against Women Act of 1994. The law went into effect on October 28, 2000. The goal of the legislation is to offer relief in cases of “certain serious crimes that tend to target vulnerable foreign individuals without immigration status if the victim has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime, the victim has information about the crime, and a law enforcement official or a judge certifies that the victim has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in investigating or prosecuting the crime.”(Source: Legal Momentum U Visa fact sheet and The Violence Against Women Act of 2000 Section by Section Summary, Vol 146, No. 126 Congressional Record, 106th)
The challenge with this relief is that a police officer or individual with investigative authority has to sign a certification just for someone to apply for this relief. This means that the victim has to have reported the crime at a minimum. While there are officers and prosecutors out there who are really working with survivors to help them if they have a strong case of abuse, there are also those who don't want to sign off on this relief. The officers and prosecutors sometimes think they are somehow giving immigration relief to this individual. The reality is that a specialized immigration office in Vermont (also known as the Vermont Service Center) trained on Violence Against Women issues, reviews and makes that determination.
With the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, there was a provision that would provide specialized relief for H-4 domestic violence survivors who qualified, with employment. The current challenge with this is that there are currently no regulations to apply for this temporary relief yet. The other reality is that it is tough for a spouse on H4 visa or who is undocumented to call the police -- they are often told by their abuser that they won't apply for their immigration, the abused spouse might not know English or the resources available to them.
Many immigrants are legitimately scared to contact the police, especially with the anti-immigrant legislation in Georgia, which has created more barriers for survivors to call for help. Many officers don't know about immigration law so they may make mistakes that might be based on incorrect information or misinterpretation of the new Georgia law. While there are officers/investigators who have helped us with so many survivors and we are grateful to call upon them for the support we need, there are also those who continue to make it difficult for survivors to access this relief.
• Please note this is general information about U visas and relief about H-4 visas and it is important to consult an immigration attorney to see if you are eligible for any of the relief mentioned in this article. If you have more questions, please feel free to call 404-876=0670 learn more.
*Aparna Bhattacharyya is the Executive Director of Raksha,