VAWA Lawyers in Jacksonville — Helping Domestic Violence Victims Seek Lawful Status in America
No one should have to deal with domestic violence. Unfortunately, individuals living in America without legal status are often in even more danger. That’s because the abused spouse is typically unable to seek legal status without help from the abuser. This was a dangerous and outdated aspect of immigration law in our country, but that changed once the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994. Since that time, victims of domestic abuse have been able to self-petition for legal status on their own. However, the process can still be complex, and that’s why you should consider speaking with a VAWA lawyer in Jacksonville.
At Weldon Law Group, PLLC, we’ve seen what can happen when victims of domestic violence are unable to get away from their abusers. Sadly, this is a common outcome since a non-citizen spouse often needs someone who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to file for legal status on their behalf. In many cases before the VAWA passage, their only option was their abusive spouse — and often, they were forced to endure the abuser’s extreme cruelty in hopes of getting legal status. Our law firm believes that no one should be stuck in such a situation. Contact us today for immigration relief and assistance getting out of an abusive relationship.
What Is the Violence Against Women Act?
The Violence Against Women Act isn’t really an immigration law. It’s a broad statute that provided more tools to authorities for fighting domestic abuse. However, some of its provisions directly connect to immigration law. In fact, it even offers a pathway for an abused child, spouse, or other relatives to submit a VAWA application and get started on the path to becoming a permanent resident and eventual citizen. In the past, it was the U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident the abused person was related to who controlled the process of seeking a green card until permanent residency was granted.
In addition to gaining lawful residence in the U.S., those who are approved for VAWA protections also receive employment authorization and gain access to public benefits. And while VAWA cases may seem like they only provide assistance to women — particularly due to the name of the statute — any gender can apply for help under the law. However, there are various eligibility requirements that must be met. The fact is that having a relationship with an abuser is often not enough to secure VAWA benefits. Fortunately, an experienced attorney may be able to help you with gathering evidence to support your application.
Contact Weldon Law Group today to learn more and get started with the process.
Who Can Submit a VAWA Self Petition?
The most important aspects of any successful petition for legal status under the Violence Against Women Act are a qualifying relationship and proof of an abusive relationship. If these two elements can be established, you need only show that you have “good moral character” in order to qualify. First, it’s important to show that you have a relationship with a legal U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Potentially qualifying relationships include:
- Married spouses (including common law marriages in some circumstances)
- Child or stepchild
- Parent of legal U.S. citizen (parents of lawful permanent residents don’t qualify)
Unfortunately, merely establishing these relationships exist also isn’t enough to guarantee eligibility under the Violence Against Women Act. For instance, the evidence must typically show that a marriage was entered in “good faith” when an abused spouse is seeking assistance. However, there are also instances where the law is more lenient than one might think. As an example, an abused child filing for legal status may be eligible up until they turn 25 years old. However, abuse from their U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent must have been a “central reason” they failed to file before they turned 21.
Clearly, the law can get quite complex. In fact, there are pages and pages of official instructions and requirements listed on the government website that just covers the basics of the program. Within these pages are various reasons a person may not qualify — including engaging in certain criminal activity — even if they otherwise would be eligible as immigrant victims of domestic abuse. This is just another reason you should have a VAWA lawyer in Jacksonville on your side. At Weldon Law Group, we can review all your potential options and help you figure out the best way forward.
Can VAWA Lead to Lawful Permanent Resident Status?
If your VAWA self-petition is approved, it does not grant you citizenship. It merely provides legal status within the country. Garnering lawful permanent resident status is much more involved. Filing for these two things separately allows a VAWA petition to move more quickly — which can be a vital element in stopping removal proceedings of abuse victims. However, you can simultaneously file for permanent residence if your abuser is a U.S. citizen. If the abuser is only a lawful permanent resident, it may be years before you can seek similar status.
There are various factors that can affect this, but your Jacksonville VAWA lawyer can help you better understand them. Once you’ve obtained a VAWA green card, you can also seek out full American citizenship. However, your specific circumstances can affect this timeline as well. For instance, the children and spouses of abusive U.S. citizens can apply for full citizenship after just three years of having their green card. If someone’s VAWA qualification was based on spousal or child abuse from a permanent legal resident — or the abuse victim was the parent of the abuser — they’ll typically have to wait five years from being issued a green card to seek citizenship.
All these processes can be time-consuming, so you should start your VAWA application as soon as possible. Before undertaking this path, however, it’s vital that you’re fully prepared. You may need additional evidence to prove the claims made in your application, and there are often eligibility requirements that people do not expect. For instance, you’ll typically have to be living in the United States to file for assistance — but again, there are exceptions to this rule. That’s why you should speak with a VAWA attorney in Jacksonville if you’re suffering any type of abuse by a U.S. citizen or legally resident family member.
Do Other Crime Victims Qualify for Updated Immigration Status?
The Violence Against Women Act is a powerful tool for helping abuse victims become green card holders — and potentially even U.S. citizens. However, there are also other approaches to having your immigration status updated. This is why you should never just accept your current situation. There are many more paths to citizenship than most people realize, and an immigration attorney in Jacksonville can help you better understand them. For instance, victims of sex or labor trafficking may be eligible for a T visa — which carries similar benefits to those accepted under VAWA eligibility.
Domestic violence survivors who don’t qualify under VAWA may also gain legal status via U Visas. Eligibility for this visa type depends on assisting authorities with the investigation or prosecution of crimes. As such, the program extends beyond just accusations of domestic violence. Assisting a federal or state law enforcement official — or prosecutors — who are fighting against any criminal activity may be enough to qualify you for legal status that could eventually lead to U.S. citizenship. As with other programs, though, your eligibility will depend on your specific circumstances.
So even if a VAWA lawyer in Jacksonville isn’t exactly what you need, the immigration attorneys at Weldon Law Group may still be able to assist.
Contact Our VAWA Lawyers in Jacksonville Today
VAWA applications were an important update to existing immigration and domestic violence law. However, there are still strict requirements in order to prevent applicants from abusing the program. This can sometimes create undue hurdles for an abused spouse or other individual facing domestic violence. In fact, those who fully rely on their abuser often find themselves unable to get away due to the extreme hardship of navigating the system on their own. Fortunately, this is not a battle you have to face alone. Abused immigrants can seek out an experienced Florida immigration lawyer to help them secure legal status in our country.
At Weldon Law Group, the professionals within our law office are committed to helping the family members of abusers get out of unsafe situations. Whether someone is facing physical abuse, sexual assault, or other types of harmful behavior from an abusive relative, they may have various options at their disposal. In order to plan the appropriate way forward, though, it’s important to speak with an experienced VAWA lawyer in Jacksonville to understand your situation. Contact us today by calling (904) 204-3420 to schedule your confidential consultation. We can help get your VAWA petition started immediately.