VAWA Immigration Provisions May Allow Fraud in Citizenship Applications

Obtaining legal residency in the United States is a slow and difficult process. There are many legal hurdles that must be cleared before an immigrant may receive permanent residency or citizenship. Whether waiting for a place in a lottery or obtaining an employment-based visa to enter the U.S., many legal immigrants face multi-year waiting periods.

Marriage Leads to a Faster Immigration Process

By contrast, marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident provides a faster track to attain permanent-resident status. Once a citizen spouse has sponsored an immigrant, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducts an interview, designed to deter applicants from using a sham marriage simply for immigration purposes.

Immigrants clearing this interview receive conditional resident status. Two years later, they undergo another interview with the USCIS.

This second interview allows the USCIS to review the circumstance of the marriage. It also forces an immigrant who was merely marrying for immigration status to remain "married" to their citizen spouse and carry on the pretense of a real marriage for an extended period of time. Under the standard provisions of the immigration laws, a woman is typically dependent on her husband remaining her sponsor during the immigration process.

In the past, however, a particular hardship arose when a foreign national married a permanent resident alien or a citizen, only to suffer physical abuse and domestic violence. In such circumstances, the domestic-violence victim faced a Catch-22 situation: If she chooses to leave her abusive spouse - who is also her immigration sponsor - she could subject herself to removal and end up being deported from the U.S.

A section of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted to help protect women who have suffered various forms of violence and abuse at the hands of her citizen-husband. One provision permits a woman who can demonstrate she has suffered abuse, to obtain relief from a removal proceeding.

Potential Fraud under VAWA Immigration Provisions

A big problem has developed, however, under the Violence Against Women Act. Some women are using a resident alien or citizen to first obtain admission to the U.S., planning all the while to allege domestic violence in order to get out of the marriage and receive permanent resident status.

Under the VAWA, if a woman alleges domestic violence, she can immediately be granted permanent status. Since she would not rejoin her husband, she therefore avoids the delay of the second interview. This also allows her to sidestep this anti-fraud provision of the immigration process.

While the VAWA has many laudable goals, it is rife with the potential for fraud. It is easy for a woman to make false allegations of domestic violence. Despite the "he-said, she-said" nature of such cases, many police departments have mandatory arrest policies. Unfortunately, the goal of obtaining a "fast track" to permanent resident status makes fraudulent use of the VAWA an attractive maneuver for those cynical enough to take advantage of and manipulate U.S. citizens.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

By alleging that an innocent, citizen spouse committed domestic violence, a foreign national is able to rid themselves quickly of her unwanted sham spouse. She also is able to subject the innocent spouse to the Kafkaesque outcome of potentially being incarcerated for a criminal offense that never occurred.

In addition to gaining coveted immigration status, the foreign national gains her liberty while taking away the U.S. citizen's liberty. Adding insult to injury, unscrupulous foreign nationals use the federal and state agencies and the criminal justice system to achieve their ends.