Domestic Violence Victims in Arizona Illegally Now Face Legal Limbo

Arizona’s controversial immigration bill, SB-1070, has had far reaching consequences for many Arizona residents. That includes undocumented victims of domestic violence who are living in Arizona. These domestic violence victims face a legal limbo: while many may qualify for an adjustment of legal status, they fear contacting police to begin the process, as contacting police may actually trigger their deportation.

VAWA Allows Adjustment of Status – But it May Take Up To a Year

Victims of domestic violence who are in the country illegally actually do have the option of adjusting their status to live in the United States legally under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law passed in 1994. VAWA specifically allows aliens who have been “battered or subject to extreme cruelty” to apply for an adjustment of status if their batterer was a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and they have lived the in U.S. at least three years. In 2000, another category was added to allow victims of criminal activity to apply with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a U visa if they agree to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of a crime. These victims do not have to be married to their abuser, nor does the abuser have to be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Only 10,000 U visas are granted annually.

Review of a self-petition for adjustment of status under VAWA or an application for a U visa can take up to one year. There is no guarantee that the Department of Justice will approve a petition under VAWA. Similarly, USCIS may not grant a U visa application. In fact, USCIS is only allowed to grant 10,000 U visa applications each year. There is no limit to the number of self-petitions granted under VAWA.

Domestic Violence Victims in Arizona Are Unsure of Best Route

Since SB-1070 was passed, domestic violence advocates have noticed that fewer women and children are coming to shelters. Advocates worry that women who are in Arizona illegally may fear deportation if they report their abuser or attempt to leave him.

Another hurdle for domestic violence victims who want to pursue adjustment of status under VAWA is that they must contact police for certification before they even apply for an adjustment of status. This opens to the door to deportation. Even after a domestic violence victim applies for adjustment of status, USCIS only issues a receipt for the petition – this receipt does not qualify as a document that proves the applicant is in the country legally. The victim of domestic violence will risk deportation until the petition is granted or denied.

Thus victims of domestic violence Arizona now face a legal limbo unless SB-1070 is overturned.

In many cases, rather than apply for legal protections under the law, the victims of domestic abuse may choose to stay with their abuser. But perhaps the law will compel some victims to move away from their abusers, even leaving the state entirely to avoid having contact with law enforcement? No research or reports have been compiled to document whether this unintended consequence is happening, however.

Advocacy Group Legal Momentum Files Suit Against SB-1070

Most advocates believe that SB-1070 has left victims of domestic violence with few choices to keep them safe. Advocacy Group Legal Momentum has joined in a suit challenging SB-1070. A former domestic violence victim and illegal immigrant has even testified before Congress that SB-1070 will probably prevent domestic violence victims from reporting abuse to law enforcement.

For now, key parts of SB-1070 are not in effect while courts decide whether SB-1070 is constitutional. Still, many victims are preparing for the worst and are either preparing to leave the state or to endure the violence in their lives with no recourse.