How to WIN your VAWA case!

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Video Description

Win your VAWA case fast with these pro tips from an experienced immigration lawyer! When filing a VAWA self petition to USCIS, there is certain evidence you need to prepare and tips to keep in mind. In this video we cover how to prove your abuser's status (US citizens & Legal Permanent Residents), your relationship to them, that your marriage was in good faith, that you and the abuser resided together, that you experience battery or extreme cruelty, and that you have good moral character. We also go through your declaration, which is possibly the most important piece of evidence in a successful VAWA case!

Get your copy of the USCIS "Checklist of Required Initial Evidence for Form I-360" here:

Video Transcript

Today we’re talking about how to win your VAWA case and get it approved FAST!

If you have been the victim of battery or extreme cruelty by a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouse, parent, or child, then you may be eligible to submit a VAWA self-petition and get your green card without them knowing or being involved.

I am an immigration lawyer based in New York who has helped hundreds of clients from all over the United States prepare and submit successful VAWA self petitions, and I want to share with you some of the best advice I have for winning your VAWA case.

So let’s go through the official USCIS “Checklist for VAWA Self-Petitioners” and take a look at the documents you should prepare and the pro tips you need to know along the way.

This checklist lists all of the evidence required when filing the form I-360 for your VAWA case.

If you want to download your own copy I’ll include a link in the description below (LINK)

Also, be sure to stay tuned to the end because we’re also going to cover best practices for your personal declaration, which is possibly the most important part of your VAWA petition!

Proof of U.S. citizenship or LPR status

Okay, the first item on our checklist is “Evidence of the abuser’s U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident status.”

That means if the abuser is a US citizen, you can submit a copy of: 

  • Their birth certificate
  • Passport
  • Naturalization certificate
  • Or “A number” if they were naturalized.

If the abuser is a Legal Permanent Resident you can provide: 

  • Front and back copies of their green card—also called an “I-551 Permanent Resident Card”
  • A copy of their passport or I-94 arrival card with a “temporary proof of resident status” stamp
  • Or their “A” immigration case number.

In some states you can contact the county recorder where the abuser was born and request a copy of their birth certificate. 

If they’re a green card holder and have submitted form I-130 on your behalf, you can also include a copy of the petition as evidence of their immigration status.

If you can’t get access to any of their immigration documents, you can also file a Freedom of Information Act request—called a “FOIA request”—with USCIS. 

They will then provide you with your immigration file, which may include information about your spouse that you can use.

And as a last resort if you are unable to secure any of these forms of proof, then submit written affidavits from those who know the abuser’s status. 

Proof of legal relationship to the abuser

Next on our checklist is “Marriage and divorce decrees, birth certificates, or other evidence of your legal relationship to the abuser.”

If your abuser is your spouse, the best form of proof is a copy of your marriage certificate.

It’s fine if your marriage occurred outside the US so long as it was legally binding.

Same sex marriages are also recognized so long as they are legal marriages.

Note that if you were married previously then you need to show proof that your previous marriage was formally dissolved.

And if your abuser is your parent then the best form of proof is a copy of your birth certificate.

If you are filing for divorce then work with your family law attorney to get the evidence you need from your abuser.

If needed, you can also use an order of protection to get this information.

And remember, it’s not required that you be separated during your VAWA self-petition—the entire process is strictly confidential between you, your attorney, and USCIS.

Proof you resided together

The third item on our checklist is “one or more documents showing that you and the abuser have resided together, such as employment records, utility receipts, school records, hospital or medical records, birth certificates of children, mortgages, rental records, insurance policies, or affidavits;”

You need to prove that you lived together at some point during the marriage, but no specific amount of time is required.

That means even if you only lived together for a day, that is enough so long as you have evidence to prove it.

Proof that you lived together typically includes:

  • Lease or rental agreements
  • Utility or other bills
  • Children’s school or medical records
  • And any other documents listing you and the abuser at the same address at the same time.

Note that it’s not required you currently live with your abuser, and it’s acceptable if you lived together outside of the United States.

If you are having trouble locating any of these documents, you can also submit declarations from landlords, neighbors, friends, and family members.

If you do, make sure they include copies of their identification because USCIS will give more credibility to affidavits with a verified author than those without.

Evidence of the abuse

Next on our checklist is “Evidence of the abuse, such as reports and affidavits from police, judges, court officials, medical personnel, school officials, clergy, social workers, and other social service agency personnel. If you have an order of protection, or have taken other legal steps to end the abuse, you should submit copies of those court documents”

While physical abuse is the most visible form of abuse, the vast majority of VAWA cases are filed by victims of extreme cruelty—which is also called “emotional abuse.”

The definition of “extreme cruelty” has been intentionally left vague so anything that could reasonably be considered abuse or controlling behavior would apply. 

If you’re not sure whether or not the treatment you’re receiving qualifies as extreme cruelty, contact us with the details of your situation so we can help determine whether or not you have a strong VAWA case.

A few examples of extreme cruelty include but are not limited to:

  • Isolation
  • Intimidation
  • Economic abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Coercive control
  • Deportation threats
  • Abandonment
  • Employment-related abuse
  • Stalking and monitoring
  • Threats to harm you
  • Threats to take away your kids
  • And any other similar behavior that is cruel or controlling.

Proof of extreme cruelty can come in a lot of forms, including:

  • The self-petitioner’s declaration, which we’ll discuss in just a moment
  • Declarations from friends, family, neighbors, religious organizations, your workplace, and school
  • Domestic abuse service providers such as shelters, crisis lines, and support groups
  • Criminal court records
  • Emails, notes, letters, and voicemails
  • Medical records
  • Marriage, religious, and mental health counselors
  • And police reports

A lot of the same proof applies for physical battery, as well as photos of injuries, damaged furniture, and other signs of physical abuse.

The more evidence you can provide proving abuse, the stronger your case will be. Your goal should be to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are the victim of battery or extreme cruelty.

To help make your case, consider getting an assessment from a licensed professional who specializes in working with victims of abuse. 

USCIS adjudicators weigh these assessments more heavily than mental health evaluations because they’re trained to identify the signs of battery and extreme cruelty.

When working with our VAWA clients, we have a list of experienced counselors that we refer them to for professional assessment.

The counselor then provides a written declaration stating the treatment our client has endured and the symptoms they are experiencing, which helps make a stronger case with USCIS.

It’s also a good idea to get several written declarations from friends and family who know about your abuse.

This can even be people who live outside of the United States and speak a language other than English. Simply get their statements translated before submitting them.

And note that you do not need a police report. Having one is helpful, but your lawyer can help you put together a strong enough case without it.

Proof of good moral character

Next on our checklist is “your affidavit of good moral character accompanied by a local police clearance, state-issued criminal background check, or similar report from each locality or state in the United States or abroad where you have resided for six or more months during the three-year period immediately before you filed your self-petition”

When considering your moral character, USCIS focuses on the past three years, so you want to contact the local police station at each of the locations you lived at for more than six months over the past three years.

Ask them to provide you with a police clearance letter or whatever equivalent their state offers. If they ask why then explain that it is for immigration purposes.

As with some of the other items we’ve covered, you can also include affidavits from friends, family members, coworkers, and anyone else who can testify to the quality of your character.

Also include any information that shows positive contributions to your family and community, such as documents from religious organizations.

Request that any affidavits submitted on your behalf highlight information that shows your involvement and that you’re a good person.

That might include regularly attending church, taking part in community activities, or supporting other families.

If you do have a criminal history then it’s important to learn what it is and how to address it before filing your VAWA case.

If you contact us with the details of your situation, we can advise whether or not it might disqualify you.

Proof of a good faith marriage

And the last item on our checklist says that “if you are a spouse, submit evidence showing you entered your marriage in good faith, such as proof that one spouse has been listed as the other’s spouse on insurance policies, property leases, properly filed tax forms, or bank statements. You may also submit your affidavit or affidavits of others who have knowledge of your courtship, wedding ceremony, shared residence, and other life experiences, if available.”

The official standard of proof for a good faith marriage is whether or not you intended to establish a life together when you entered into it.

Common evidence includes:

  • Children
  • Love letters
  • Proof of residence with the abuser
  • Proof of how you met
  • And any of the other items we just covered.

Unsurprisingly, one of the favored forms of evidence of a good faith marriage that USCIS adjudicators like to see is children.

There is also typically a higher standard of proof for shorter marriages, so if that’s the case then submit as much evidence as you can to prove it was legitimate.

Your Declaration

This next part isn’t included in the USCIS checklist, and yet it might be the most important piece of evidence in a successful VAWA case… and that is your personal declaration.

This is a statement you’ve prepared that provides as much information as possible detailing your relationship, starting from when you met and leading up to the most recent abuse you’ve suffered.

In it, you want to include information such as:

  • How the two of you met
  • The feelings you had for them
  • When you got married
  • When the abuse started and what led to that change
  • How you responded to the abuse
  • Specifics about the abuse you experienced
  • Who you confided in during that time
  • And any other details that are relevant and paint a clear picture

Sometimes this declaration is the only documentation people have to prove their VAWA case. 

USCIS adjudicators have been trained to identify genuine instances of battery and extreme cruelty, so include as much detail as you can in your statement in order to persuade them.

Remember: there is no interview in a VAWA petition, so USCIS bases its decision entirely on the information you provide. You can submit an appeal if your case is denied, but if you fail to convince them that your evidence is credible, their final decision is the end of your petition.

Final Pro Tips

I want to share a few other common things I see with VAWA petitions. 

When preparing your VAWA case, be careful if using any shared devices. You want to make sure the evidence you prepare and your communications with USCIS remain private.

If you work with an immigration lawyer then we strongly recommend having all communications sent through us to keep everything confidential.

It’s also important that you avoid any inconsistencies with your immigration filings. If there is conflicting information between your VAWA petition and other submissions to USCIS, it can result in your case being denied. 

So use a FOIA request to get all your previous immigration filings and ensure your information is consistent.

Also be sure you use the most current versions of forms. Go to USCIS and double check to make sure you’re using the most up-to-date version available.

And keep in mind that the moment DHS knows you’re a VAWA petitioner, there is nothing your abuser can do to get you deported. You are immediately protected as soon as you initiate your VAWA case.

We’ve covered a lot of ground today and all of this might sound a little overwhelming.

Don’t worry! You don’t necessarily need to have everything we’ve discussed in order to submit a successful VAWA self petition.

And if you want help preparing the best case possible, give us a call to schedule a consultation. 

We have helped hundreds of victims successfully file their VAWA petition and take control of their lives, and can help you do the same!

Click here to learn more about qualifying for VAWA as the SPOUSE of a U.S. citizen

Click here to learn more about qualifying for VAWA as the PARENT of a U.S. citizen

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