Skip to Main Content
Printer Friendly

Survivor Stories

A Look into the Lives of Immigrant Clients

January 16, 2010

VAWA Self-Petition

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed by Congress in 1994. Among many other protections, VAWA created special provisions in United States immigration law to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence.  The VAWA Self-Petitioning process allows a battered spouse of a United States citizen or Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) to break free from the sponsorship control that an abusive spouse may have over the undocumented immigrant and petition on their own (self-petition) to gain legal status in the United States. 

The goal of this article is to shed some light on the struggles and accomplishments of immigrant clients’.  Below are stories of two clients whose VAWA Self-Petitions were granted through the help of Empire Justice Center.  The importance of collaboration between the legal services provider and other local agencies has proven to be essential in getting clients back on their feet.

These are their stories:

A.F. and children

A.F. was born in St. Thomas, Jamaica. She first came to the United States in 1998 on vacation to take her children to Disney World.  It was supposed to be a joyous and simple trip for A.F.’s family but no one expected the predicament she and her children would face.  She met J.B. and fell in love with him.  He was kind and attentive and showed real affection for A.F. and her children.  They began dating and were married in 2000. Unfortunately once A.F. and her children were living with J.B. they realized he was an alcohol and drug abuser.  He began verbally and physically abusing A.F.  He sexually abused her and isolated her knowing that A.F. and her children could not gain autonomy in the United States without his assistance.  He used this method of control to further traumatize and threaten them.

A.F. first found the courage to seek assistance in 2004, but she was frightened by her husband’s constant threats so she stopped.  After repeated attempts by A.F. to save the marriage through counseling, she took her children and left her husband in February of 2008. A.F. turned to Catholic Charities for help; they in turn referred her to Empire Justice to help her with her legal status. Empire Justice filed the Self-Petition, Adjustment Applications, and Employment Applications for A.F. and her three undocumented children, who were all under twenty-one and therefore could have their status adjusted under their mother’s application as “derivatives.”

The employment applications for all four applicants were approved in September of 2008. This was the first step for A.F. and her children’s independence as A.F. was able to finally work legally in the U.S. and support all her children without any assistance from her violent husband.  The children were happy to finally be free from their abusive father. Afterwards A.F.’s VAWA Self-Petition was approved which led the way to the family getting their green cards.

Since gaining the independence that comes with her legal status, A.F. has worked hard, taking on double shifts as a nursing aid, often getting little or no sleep so she can support her children.  But she does not complain.  She credits the agencies which helped her family break free from her abusive husband for her new life.

M.M. and daughter

M.M. was born in Nairobi, Kenya.  She first arrived to the United States in 2001 for a modeling competition.  M.M. was extremely successful during this competition which propelled her career.  She received offers from various modeling agencies and settled on continuing her career in New York City. She applied for and was granted the appropriate visa to work in the U.S. 

Things couldn’t have been any better for M.M.; work was good and she met her future husband the same year.  They were married in 2004 and in 2006, they had a beautiful baby girl.  After the birth, her husband’s violent side started coming out.  He became verbally abusive and physically assaulted M.M.  Her daughter was also placed in danger during these violent outbursts.  During this turmoil, M.M. sought therapy but she remained in the home.  Her strength to seek therapy became a crucial link to services which would eventually help her break free from the cycle of cruelty she was experiencing. 

M.M.’s therapist recommended she go to Unity House for domestic violence services.  Unity House is one of many excellent domestic violence agencies which collaborate with other organizations to ensure that battered women receive the full services they require to get on with their lives after experiencing abuse.  M.M. admits that she had a tough time making the decision to actually go to Unity House because she was scared. However, M.M. knew that her safety and her daughter’s safety was in extreme jeopardy; she physically left her husband in 2007 and entered the shelter at Unity House.  Through their services she was able to connect with Empire Justice to seek immigration relief.  We conducted our first intake in October 2007 and determined that, as an abused immigrant, M.M. was eligible for relief under the VAWA provisions of immigration law.  While working with our office, she continued receiving services at Unity House. 

She left the shelter in December of 2007.  Empire Justice filed for M.M.’s immigration petition in early 2008 and she received her permanent residency the following year in March 2009.  She is currently working with our office to become a United States Citizen.   

M.M. found the services at Unity House and Empire Justice to be critical in helping her gain financial stability.  Through these services, M.M.’s baby daughter was able to attend daycare while M.M. continued taking classes to become a licensed nurse. M.M. graduated nursing school and received her L.P.N. in the summer of 2008.  Having turned her life around, M.M. continued working hard as a nurse, was able to purchase a home for her and her daughter in September 2009, and began a new, healthy relationship.

M.M. is grateful for all the services that her therapist, Unity House, and Empire Justice Center provided her. Without these agencies, she could not have received the help that she needed.  And without the collaboration among these agencies, we would not have been able to provide M.M. with successful services. 

M.M. would like to send a message to all women out there that might be dealing with domestic violence.  She said she felt there was nowhere to turn, but she reached out and found many places she could go to.  Once she made the initial courageous step, she was immediately linked to other agencies, which each in their unique way provided M.M. with the assistance she required.  She thanks all who have helped her put her life back on track from the bottom of her heart.


Copyright © Empire Justice Center. All rights reserved. Articles may be reprinted only with permission of the authors.