This morning, while I was with my kids at our neighborhood grocery store, I heard someone calling my name. As I turned to see who it was, I realized that it was one of my former clients. I recognized the sweet lady immediately; her type of case is hard to forget. She was a victim of domestic violence and her case was based on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA is a Congressional law which allows victims of violence who were abused by US Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR) family members to apply for a Green Card or Permanent Residency.
Soon after we exchanged greetings, she started to thank me and shared how she is enjoying her life as a LPR. She mentioned that now she is living a life that is without fear and full of opportunities for her and her children. As I listened while she told me about how I assisted in changing her life in a positive manner, I started to feel immense satisfaction with the realization of how morally rewarding my job can be at times. After this brief conversation, I wished her luck in all her future endeavors and we went our separate ways to continue our grocery shopping.
This meeting with my former client reminded me of a recent Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision, Matter of A-R-C-G, which recognizes victims of domestic violence as a social group and allows these victims to file for asylum in the United States.
Why is this decision so important?
Every day, non-citizens both in and outside of the US become victims of domestic violence. For those who are victims of US citizens or LPR abusers, there is VAWA. If a non-citizen becomes a victim of violence at the hands of a family member who is a US citizen or LPR, the victim has the right to file a petition to seek permanent residence status in the US. Upon approval, the applicant can receive a green card.
If the abuser is not a USC or LPR, but the act of domestic violence was committed in the US, the victim may be eligible for a U visa. The U visa is a benefit available to non-citizens who were or currently are victims of certain crimes, including crimes of violence. Domestic violence is one of the qualifying crimes under the U visa.
The above analysis shows that the law recognizes victims of domestic crimes and affords them the right to immigration remedies, as long as the abuse was committed in the US. But what about those who were victims of domestic violence in their home countries? What about those who were forced to flee from cruel physical and mental abuse by their spouses, partners, parents, children and/or other immediate family members?
Prior to August 26, 2014 (when BIA decided the Matter of A-R-C-G), these individuals would apply for asylum, and they would be granted asylum only if the officer or judge personally believed that domestic violence can be classified as a social group. Matter of A-R-C-G is a pivotal ruling that will change the lives of so many survivors of domestic violence.
Why is recognizing Domestic Violence as a “Social Group” so important?
To qualify for asylum, the applicant needs to prove that he/she is a “Refugee”. The definition of a refugee is a person who has been persecuted or has a well-founded fear of being persecuted “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” For years, the phrase “membership in a particular social group” has been the source of much debate and uncertainty, as many judges took a restrictive approach as to what constitutes a particular social group. Many judges did not recognize Domestic Violence as a social group, claiming that this is a broad class which does not share the same defined characteristics. Asylum applicants with Domestic Violence claims were therefore under the mercy of the views of the particular judge who was presiding over their case.
With this BIA decision, today victims of domestic abuse can claim a huge victory over their abusers. And for me and other lawyers who represent victims of Domestic Violence, it is a huge victory over the uncertainty in the definition of “member of a social group”, and is an important step toward streamlining decisions by immigration judges.
This decision is especially important today due to an unprecedented amount of Central American women and children who have stormed our borders because they are fleeing persecution and Domestic Violence in their countries. The court finally got it and Domestic Violence is in. Don’t let the abuser win.
Attorney Nash Fayad is the Founder and President of Fayad Law, P.C., an immigration firm serving clients in Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.
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