Jessica Lyons of the Queens Courier interviewed two attorneys from our firm (Jerome Wisselman and Jacqueline Harounian) for a domestic violence segment on which she was reporting. She included quotes from both attorneys in her article entitled "Help and Hope - for Immigrant Victims". This is a very important story about the challenges that are unique to domestic violence victims who are also immigrants.
In order to provide relevant legal information to those in need, I offer the following:
Not surprisingly, there are numerous cases of illegal aliens who come into this country prior to receiving their green card. The typical scenario is that once they are here, they meet and marry an American citizen, and then apply for permanent citizenship (via I130, a Petition for Alien Relative) with Immigration Services.
Sometimes, these illegal aliens are abused by their American spouse, and the abuser threatens to revoke their sponsorship if the abuse is reported to the police. The illegal alien is frightened, in fear of being deported, and remains silent. Sadly, the abuse continues. What can be done?
There is recourse for immigrants in this frightful situation, where they can report the abuse and still be approved for citizenship. The following conditions must be met for this to occur:
- If the parties are married; and
- If the petition for Alien Relative has already been filed by the spouse (abuser) with Immigration Services; and
- If the petition has not yet been finalized; and
- If the sponsor is the abusive spouse.
Under the conditions above, New York State divorce laws may protect the abused victim and allow them to gain citizenship even if they fear that the spouse won't continue with the immigration petition. The victim can continue the process without their sponsor's help by filing a divorce action in the State of New York alleging cruel and inhuman treatment as grounds for divorce and completing the appropriate INS forms.
Furthermore, illegal aliens already in the process of obtaining their citizenship are entitled to all the same protective actions as citizens. They can get an order of protection, preventing the abusive spouse from coming near them and their children, and they may have the spouse arrested if there is evidence of physical harm initiated.
It is a sad state of affairs when people seeking refuge from the terror of their own country are met with abuse by Americans. To withstand the abuse out of fear of returning to the original horror is even more tragic.