Beginning today, the federal government can launch deportation proceedings against survivors of domestic violence, crime or trafficking if their visa petitions have been denied.
This is a follow-up to a policy change that was announced in June. The change gave U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) broader powers in issuing a Notice to Appear (NTA), a document that orders an immigrant to appear before a judge to begin deportation proceedings.
According to an update USCIS released earlier this month, people seeking protection under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), “could be more easily placed in deportation proceedings if their applications are denied and they do not have an underlying legal status,” reported Mother Jones yesterday (November 19).
In addition to the new policy, people who are victims of domestic violence also face dangerously long wait times in having their visa applications processed. According to the USCIS website, “As a battered spouse, child or parent, you may file an immigrant visa petition under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).”
Form I-360 lets survivors file a petition without the abuser’s knowledge. “This allows victims to seek both safety and independence from their abuser, who is not notified about the filing,” reads the website.
The processing time for this petition was 4.8 months in 2016. It is now 16 to 20.5 months, according to USCIS. Suzanne Tomatore, an attorney at the New York City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, told Rewire.news that this timeline is “insane.”
The news site follows one woman’s story to show what can happen as a result of extended processing times:
When Mayela Sanchez Miles finally fled her abusive marriage toward the end of 2016, she pinned all her hopes on filing for a green card through the Violence Against Women Act. But she had to wait over 16 months for her paperwork to process. Unable to work legally, she was trapped in a sort of immigration limbo dependent on friends and her local Houston church.
“It was so hard,” said Miles, swallowing tears. “Breaking from him, standing alone with my pain, my trauma, my four children, not able to work. I thought we would be on the street.”
According to Rewire.news, 11,326 VAWA I-360 petitions were received in the 2017 fiscal year. About a third were approved, while approximately 18 percent were denied. “A whopping 13,195 petitions, or about 116 percent of those received in the entire year, were pending,” the site reports.
USCIS says that if a petition is denied, the survivor will receive “adequate notice” through a letter and will not face immediate deportation. An agency spokesperson told Mother Jones that all filers have the opportunity to appeal the decision.
“In effect, USCIS could throw survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking into deportation proceedings for the very act of seeking protection from their abusers and captors,” Jason Boyd, policy counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Mother Jones. “It’s a morally reprehensible policy. Without question, this policy will deter survivors of human trafficking, domestic abuse, sexual assault and other horrific crimes from coming forward.”