No one has the right to abuse anyone. The true story below is illustrative of this point. Despite enormous obstacles justice was done.

Valerie O’Donnell from Waterford was pregnant and separated from the father of her yet-unborn children, Rob.

He came to her home drunk and attacked her, throwing her against a wall and choking her. After the attack, Valerie was too afraid to report him to the police, as she had no support or family in the United States; she had recently moved here from Ireland.

Valerie moved again a year later, but Rob found out where she lived with their children. He kicked Valerie’s door open, chased her into her bedroom, and beat her until she was unconscious.

Valerie’s neighbor found her and called the police. Rob was arrested and Valerie obtained an order of protection against him, and later procured custody of their children.

Undaunted Rob used the visitation of their children to continue the abuse - he was hostile and aggressive towards Valerie during drop-offs and pick-ups of their children, left her insulting, abusive phone messages calling her names and threatening to have her deported, and accused her of not being a good mother.

Over seven years, Valerie obtained six orders of protection against Rob because of his continued harassment, threats, and intimidating phone calls and behavior.

Several years into Rob’s campaign of abuse, he called Valerie over twenty times on her cell phone and home phone in one day. He left messages demanding to know who was watching their children and threatening to kill Valerie.

She also was wary of Rob following her to work several times, and suspected that he was watching her home. Valerie was terrified for her and her children’s safety, so she filed a police report about Rob’s harassment.

Rob was arrested and Valerie met with staff at the District Attorney’s office several times. She attended criminal court over the course of the case, and Rob pleaded guilty to harassment several months later.

While no story speaks to every situation, Valerie’s experience mirrors that of many women and men in the United States who are abused by husbands, wives and partners. Domestic violence is one person exerting control and power over their partner, using whatever tools are available. Often times, the abuser will use their partner’s immigration status as a means to tightly control her or his life—threatening to have someone deported, telling her or him that the police won’t believe them or the police will arrest them instead of the abuser, or claiming that people who are not U.S. Citizens don’t have rights.

Many persons without current immigration status fear calling the police because of the belief that the police will inquire about their immigration status, and that will lead to them being deported by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Everyone has rights in the United States, regardless of immigration status or where one was born. All persons have access to police assistance and criminal prosecution of abusers, victim’s assistance programs, protection orders, child custody and support, obtaining public benefits for their children, emergency medical care and to be paid a fair wage for their labor.

The police are not supposed to ask about a crime victim’s immigration status, and if they do, they can be reported. In the last several decades, the penalization of domestic violence has moved these crimes from what was commonly considered by law enforcement and citizenry alike as a “family matter” to misdemeanors and felonies—chargeable criminal offenses.

Just because a couple lives together, is in a romantic or dating relationship, or has children together does not give either party the right to physically, verbally, emotionally, sexually or financially abuse the other party. In New York, several crimes are commonly charged in domestic violence cases—Harassment, Contempt, Assault, and Stalking.

After the case Valerie received supportive counseling at My Sisters’ Place, and her counselor referred her to MSP’s legal program. My Sisters’ Place provides immigration and family court legal representation in domestic violence cases.

Valerie’s attorney advised that because she was a victim of domestic violence and cooperated with the prosecution, she could be eligible for U Nonimmigrant Status (“U Visa). He asked the District Attorney’s office to sign Form I-918 Supplement B on her behalf, and after a few weeks, received the certification. After completion of the I-918 Petition and supporting documents, Valerie’s attorney sent her Petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. After several months of waiting, Valerie received a U Nonimmigrant Status approval notice and Employment Authorization Card. With her Employment Authorization Card, Valerie applied for and received a Social Security card. Three years later, Valerie applied for Permanent Resident Status (“green card”) and is now a Permanent Resident.

To qualify for U Nonimmigrant Status, an applicant must obtain the signature of a law enforcement official who can certify that the applicant was a victim of one of twenty-six crimes (including domestic violence) enumerated in federal regulations, cooperated, is cooperating, or is likely to cooperate with the investigation or prosecution, suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime, has information concerning the crime, and that the crime occurred in the United States.

With the signed I-918 Supplement B, the applicant can file Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status. Evidence of substantial physical or mental abuse is important, including an affidavit from the applicant regarding the abuse suffered from the crime, and can also include police reports, hospital, medical or counselor records, supporting statements from witnesses, and photographs.

If the I-918 Petition is approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the applicant obtains four years of nonimmigrant status in the United States and an Employment Authorization Card for the same amount of time. With U Nonimmigrant Status, the next step is to maintain three years of continuous presence in the United States, which equates to remaining in the United States and keeping rental contracts, bills, tax returns, school records, and other proof of living in the United States. After three years of continuous presence with U Nonimmigrant Status in the U.S., one may apply for Permanent Resident Status.

U Nonimmigrant Status is relatively new, the actual status only being available for the past six years.
My Sisters’ Place also provides immigration representation in VAWA Self-Petitions (for spouses of abusive U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents), I-751 Petitions to Remove Conditions on Residence (for conditional residents abused by U.S. Citizen spouses), I-914 Applications for T Nonimmigrant Status (four years of nonimmigrant status and Employment Authorization Card for victims of severe form of trafficking in persons—commercial sex work or labor induced by force, fraud or coercion) and I-589 asylum applications (for persons persecuted or who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion).

My Sisters’ Place also provides representation in family law cases: custody and visitation rights, orders of protection, child and spousal support, and abuse and neglect cases.

If you feel that you are in immediate danger from a current or past partner and/or you seek domestic violence shelter, you may call My Sisters’ Place hotline 1-800-298-7233. If you seek legal services or support for trafficking survivors, please call My Sisters’ Place at 914-683-1333. If you seek counseling or Self-Sufficiency services, please call My Sisters’ Place at 914-358-0333.

*  Tim Fallon, Senior Immigration Counsel at My Sisters’ Place in Yonkers/White Plains, NY