Green cards for abused immigrants in jeopardy

The news: In May, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives approved conflicting versions of a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, leaving the final status of the law in question.

Behind the news: The protections called into doubt by the stalemate have given legal status and rights to nearly 120,000 foreign-born victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and similar crimes since 2000.

The Violence Against Women Act has allowed 67,053 abused men, women and children to file their own petitions and attain green cards since 2000—without involving the U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who abused them. Another 49,558 victims of criminal activities such as domestic violence have received temporary immigration benefits since 2009 by receiving what is known as a “U visa.”

The law authorizing these protections expired in September, but Congress approved funding for the programs for 2012, leaving self- petitioning uninterrupted.

Confidentiality has always been the primary concern of women self-petitioning for permanent residency, said Maria Pesqueira, executive director of Mujeres Latinas en Acción, a Chicago-based agency that provides services to Latina women. The abusive spouse finding out that his wife is seeking help can endanger her safety, and fear of discovery may discourage her from applying for her immigration status.

“Victims of abuse and sexual assault, even if they’re undocumented, are victims of a crime,” Pesqueira said. “We shouldn’t stop them from coming forward.”

The House’s concerns of fraud are built around the fact that the need for privacy limits the thoroughness with which immigration officials can investigate the applications. But immigration services have denied a third of the applications since 2011.

“When people apply for this they go through vigorous review,” said Mony Ruiz-Velasco, the director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center.

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