“I’m going back home. I couldn’t forgive myself if my mother passed away without me there.”
“I’ve just accepted that if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen [getting legal residency].”
In a few days a client Catholic Legal Services has been working with will be flying back home to visit his gravely ill mother. This, of course, doesn’t bode well for his immigration status, as he is currently undocumented. However, there is legislation that should afford him protection and a path to permanent residency. That path, however, has been blocked by the arbitrary decision-making of those we trust to uphold the law.
This client, who we may refer to has Mr. X, was eligible for relief under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes a stipulation that allows for abused spouses of US citizens an alternative track to legal permanent residency. Normally, spouses of US citizens can petition to stay in the US by virtue of their marriage. However, for abused spouses this becomes tricky territory, as it might put people in a place where they have to choose between staying with an abuser or staying without documentation. Moreover, abusers often use their spouses’ vulnerable immigration status against them and use this looming fear in their arsenal of threats. VAWA fixes some of these issues by giving abused and battered spouses an alternative track to residency where they no longer are beneficiaries of their abusive spouses.
In order to seek relief under VAWA, one must file a petition and prove that they’re eligible for relief. Thus, the petitioner must provide proof that any past marriages have been nullified, the present couple was married, the immigrant spouse entered into the relationship in good faith, and the spouse was indeed abusive.
In supporting his case, Mr. X provided an affidavit explaining how he had long suppressed and rejecting his sexuality, going as far as marrying two women, before he realized and came to embrace his true self. His affidavit explains how he met his husband, how he fell for him, and how for the first time in his life he felt like he could be his true self and felt that he had found his soulmate. He chronicles how the relationship fell apart after they got married and gives clear account of how his spouse abused him: he controlled Mr. X’s finances despite Mr. X often being the one to pay the bills, he kept all of their documents, he would choke Mr. X during arguments, he started doing meth and got angry when Mr. X confronted him about it, he would kick Mr. X out of the house, he humiliated him by making fun of his accent, he tried to prevent Mr. X from speaking to other people, etc. To support this case, letters of support from friends were given. His health care provider attested to the abuse and also gave a letter of recommendation. The domestic violence center he was seeking help from provided a letter. Medical records documented his psychiatric treatments were attached. Years of emails were printed out, first showing the happy relationship, later showing his pleas for help with his situation.
Despite the substantive supportive documentation and the clear affidavit, the petition was rejected. In the letter sent back, the person who reviewed the application for USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) stated that the relationship might have been “unhealthy” but that there was not enough in the affidavit that proved the situation amounted to abuse.
Moreover, the letter said that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that Mr. X entered the relationship in good faith because there weren’t enough details of their relationship – the Thanksgiving dinner with Mr. X’s spouse’s family, the years of email exchanges, the letter from a friend who knew and met them as a couple, the story of how they met, apparently were all somehow insufficient.
After going through all of Mr. X’s files in preparing the case, I had a hard time imagining how someone could be so utterly lacking in empathy. It would be one thing if he did not have the required supportive documents, but putting together the cover letter, I couldn’t see what was missing. The few documents he couldn’t obtain were in possession of his abusive spouse, and Mr. X had an affidavit accounting for that.
“The reviewer is homophobic.” That was the explanation given to me by the lawyer who was working on the case. Given that the client is a white man with no criminal record whose only obviously “otherizing” characteristic (aside from the baseline of being an immigrant) is his sexuality, I am inclined to agree.
So that’s it? One reviewer decides gay love isn’t real love, that gay violence isn’t real violence, so a person clearly in need of and legally eligible for assistance, a person traumatized by an abusive relationship, is further traumatized and left with no options. He is pushed to the point that he decides to leave it all up to fate and fly back home. Home, where Mr. X could never be his true self. All of to visit his parents, who he never stopped loving, but who stopped showing interest in his life after he came out.
So there it is. The justice system.