California residents may know that the immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents may apply for naturalization, but they may not be aware that they may sometimes seek a green card even if their marriages have not endured. Immigrant women hoping for a marriage-based green card were once at the mercy of their American husbands, but the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 put contingencies in place to protect female victims of domestic abuse.
In order to be granted permanent residence under the Violence Against Women Act, immigrant women must be able to establish that they or their children have been subjected to extreme cruelty by their spouses. The abuse need not be physical in nature, but those who lack medical records substantiating their allegations will likely be questioned thoroughly by immigration authorities.
Women who file a petition under the 1994 law may also be allowed to remain in the United States even if they entered the country illegally, and waivers are sometimes granted to abused immigrant wives who relied on fraudulent documents to gain admittance to the U.S. at an airport or border crossing. Those petitioning under the provisions of the Violence Against Women Act are required to complete immigration form I-360, but they do not have to pay the usual filing fee.
Experienced immigration attorneys may advise immigrant wives who have suffered domestic violence and have left their husbands to seek a protective order from a family court. This could convey the seriousness of their situation to immigration officials add weight to their petition for naturalization. Immigration attorneys could advise immigrant spouses who remain with their husbands in spite of abuse to seek help from a mental health professional. In addition to working through their personal issues, such sessions may provide evidence of abuse that could be valuable in immigration proceedings.