The Victim’s Advocate Story on my clients’ experiences with the Violence Against Women Act
Via The Victim’s Advocate
I was interviewed recently by Ms. Shaw, a reporter for the Jacksonville, FL based newspaper, “Victim’s Advocate” for a piece on the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”). By way of background, VAWA assists battered immigrants to escape domestic violence or abuse inflicted by a US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder) spouse, abuse that the immigrant victim often feels must be submitted to in order to remain in the US due to their derivative immigrant status.
All three of my VAWA clients were able to utilize the protections of the Act, two of them being men, among the first cases in this country provided protection under the Violence Against Women Act under our Constitution’s “Equal Protection” clause. The cover story linked to below discusses two of my clients “Anjuli” and “Rizwan” (my clients’ names remain confidential) for the May issue of the paper.
To win a VAWA case, the victim must provide evidence of their good moral character, their good faith intent in entering into marriage, and proof of their abuse. Upon successful adjudication of the VAWA petition, battered immigrant spouses (and their children) may remain in the US in an independent immigration status and eventually gain work authorization, permanent residency and citizenship.
Unfortunately, knowledge of the protections offered by VAWA is not widespread.
PDF’s of the story and the content are below:
Different Faces of Domestic Violence – PDF Files
Different Faces of Domestic Violence – Text
“If he ordered me, I had to do it.”
By Shirley Shaw
Anjuli’s introduction to her new life in America came when she stepped off the plane in San Francisco. “You carry your own luggage; I don’t want my parents to pick it up,” her new husband, Sanjay, instructed. Although she could barely lift the heavy suitcases containing her dowry, all her clothes, gifts for her new family, toiletries and other items, she dutifully obeyed. “If he ordered me, I had to do it,” she explains. When they reached their home, Anjuli’s mother-in-law told her that, beginning the next day, she would work from morning to evening, preparing all their meals, fixing lunches, cleaning house, doing laundry – in short, she was their new domestic servant. “You don’t need much sleep,”
her husband told her.
For the educated, privileged daughter of an upper middle class family in New Delhi, India, herself accustomed to being attended by servants, this was a shocking turn of events. But she was a submissive young woman, reared in her culture to be an obedient wife, and she accepted her new role without question.
Anjuli* is a beautiful, shy young woman in her mid-20s who earned her MBA just before she came to the States. Since she had not married and there were no immediate prospects, her father, Ajay Dube, placed her “resume” on a “data bio” website, hoping to attract a suitable husband from Australia, India or the United States. When Sanjay’s father, Anoop Shah, responded from California, the two men began exchanging information about their respective children, families and histories.
* Names have been changed.
After many emails and phone calls, Shah asked his brother (who still resides in India) to visit Anjuli and her family and report his impression of the young woman. That being favorable, the Shahs arranged a 10-day trip to meet Anjuli who, if she pleased them, would become Sanjay’s bride. In the Dubes’ home, Sanjay and Anjuli met and the young woman was evaluated by the Shahs, including a second visit to ensure she had no visible infirmities. The two families agreed upon the marriage, details, terms and conditions were finalized, and the elaborate marriage, celebrated by hundreds of relatives from both families, took place within four days of the Shahs’ arrival in India.
Following a brief two-day honeymoon (during which the groom left Anjuli alone for hours and returned very drunk), Sanjay and his parents completed all the paperwork for her emigration to America and returned to California. Anjuli followed three months later.
Domestic servitude and abuse
Verbal and emotional abuse began immediately as the Shahs made clear Anjuli’s role in their home. Arising at 5 a.m., she prepared breakfast for Sanjay and his mother who went to work early. Then her two sisters-in-law came down for their meal, followed later by the father. If she was ever late, she was severely scolded. Because Anjuli was a few pounds overweight, the family ridiculed her for being “fat” and Mrs. Shah limited her food intake to very small amounts. She was always hungry.
By the second day, Sanjay began slapping her for various “reasons,” and when she fled their room to escape his abuse,
her mother-in-law hit her and pushed her back inside the bedroom. They insisted she sleep on the floor since her new
husband wasn’t accustomed to sleeping with someone else in his bed.
To save money on hot water and toiletries, the male Shahs bathed at the YMCA where Sanjay was a member, and they wanted Anjuli to do the same – they didn’t plan to spend a dime on her. Shortly after her arrival, Mr. Shah took her to the Y and insisted she get on the treadmill to help her lose weight. Never having seen this equipment, Anjuli begged him to let her watch how it operated, but he made her stand on the treads, then he turned the machine on “high” and left to take his bath. She tumbled from the treadmill, crushing several bones in her left hand.
Bystanders came to her rescue, but when her father-in-law finally returned, he refused to allow ambulance transport to the hospital because of the expense. He said he would take her himself, but when they were in his car, he slapped and hit her for allowing the accident to occur.
At the hospital Mrs. Shah vehemently protested when the doctors had to cut off the many bracelets on Anjuli’s arm so they could treat her injuries. Medical personnel forcibly removed the older woman from the room and commiserated with Anjuli for having to live with that “mad” person. The ER physician gave her medication with instructions to take it with food, and he gave her a cookie. Before she could eat it, Mrs. Shah ate the cookie herself and, consequently, Anjuli fainted from the effect of ingesting medicine on an empty stomach.
Although she now had a castimmobilizing her left hand, Anjuli still had to perform all her household duties, and the starvation, the physical and mental abuse continued. Finally, she tried to get help by calling 911, but the Shahs hung up the phone each time. When police came the next day to check out the calls, the family locked Anjuli in her room and assured the officers no one had called from there, that everything was fine.
All this time, she had had no contact with her family and they assumed she was adjusting to her new life. Shah called Dube periodically to report that Anjuli was happy and doing well. Mercifully, her ordeal was shortened when her husband
and his family decided they wanted more money and sent her to Jacksonville to get $20,000 from her brother who lives here. When the Dubes learned of Anjuli’s harsh treatment and abuse, they filed an incident report with JSO. She did not
return to San Francisco, and her marriage has since been annulled.
Exploiting other cultures
Anjuli’s story of abuse and domestic violence rises basically from a culture Americans find difficult to understand. The
Shahs obtained a “servant” by exploiting the Indian custom of arranged marriages and kept control over her by threatening to have her
deported. She knew if she returned to India under those circumstances, she would be disgraced and no longer “marketable” as a wife. Very important in her culture is the woman’s right to marry once in her life, and this was taken away from her.
But whatever the means of control, domestic abuse follows the same patterns: fear, intimidation, isolation, humiliation and physical harm to the victims. Those working in shelters for abused women generally consider the three main reasons victims remain in their situations to be the three F’s: fear, finances and fondness. Add to those reasons the fear of deportation and/or the cultural stigma of divorce for women of other countries, and it’s easy to see their terrible dilemmas.
Ashwin Sharma is a local Immigration attorney who moved to Jacksonville several years ago. His practice mainly deals with employment-based immigration law but one of his goals is to educate spouses – men and women – about their rights under VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. (See sidebar for more information.)
While domestic violence and spousal abuse affect a large portion of our population, Sharma believes an even larger percentage of immigrant women may suffer abuse, although there are no accurate statistics available. These women are more likely to endure the abuse, for various reasons:
•women in many other countries already have a subservient role in society and may be accustomed to ill treatment (according to our standards)
•they have a strong concept of family and will sacrifice for the good of the family
•they will tolerate abuse here rather than return home and be a “social pariah and a burden” on their family
•they may have no alternative, nowhere else to go.
Sharma says, “The advent of the Internet has increased the public’s general knowledge about the opportunity of establishing a marital relationship with someone located abroad. Most people exercising this option have no ill intent; however, there are those individuals who want to meet a stereotypically ‘subservient’ woman, someone who will not look them in the eye and will back down in a conflict. These men will do anything to maintain this power.”
Mail order brides
Several “mail-order bride” websites contain such statements as, “American women have priced themselves out of the market for getting married,” or “we don’t want women from here – they have lost their femininity,” or “we must go to other countries and find real women.”
Sharma speculates that some men who solicit mail order brides may be repeatedly exploiting this “legal” way to seek out their prey, exploit the woman, terminate the relationship, and start over again. The cost is relatively minimal – $1000-2000 for a plane ticket and perhaps another $1500 or so for the Immigration paperwork – and the man has a domestic servant, a sex slave, for as long as the arrangement suits him, or until the woman discovers the protections of VAWA.
“The US citizen and fiancé have 90 days to get married,” Sharma explains, “and if he decides not to marry her within that allotted time, he can cast her out, lock the door and she will likely have nowhere to turn. Combine this with the fact that she has no legal status, no money, no knowledge of our laws. Ultimately, she is subject to deportation/removal in accordance with US Immigration law.”
In an interesting departure from the norm, one of his clients is a Turkish man (we’ll call him Rizwan) who married an older American woman in early 2004. Rizwan says that although he had overstayed his visa and faced deportation, he didn’t marry her for the “green card”; he was charmed by the woman, admired her intelligence and genuinely loved her. But not many months had passed before he saw a very different side of her. She was jealous and possessive of the handsome young man and flew into a rage when he didn’t avert his eyes quickly enough at the sight of a pretty girl they saw in a local mall.
For the next several months, she verbally abused Rizwan, hit and slapped him repeatedly, threatened him with a ceremonial sword she owned, and finally threw bleach all over him. He fled to the home of Turkish friends for safety, but she put some bleach on herself, called police, accused him of the act and filed for an injunction against him. Rizwan spent several days in jail before Sharma was able to get him out.
Her actions are consistent with abusers of immigrant spouses – they manipulate the law to get what they want. In Rizwan’s case, his wife threatened to have him deported if he didn’t return to her, but by this time he didn’t care; he decided that he’d rather return to Turkey than put up with her abuse. Although he avoided her, she subsequently lied and had him arrested for violating the injunction she had placed on him. She later dropped the charges and eventually the two were divorced.
This particular story has a happy ending because Rizwan received approval under VAWA, one of the rare cases in which a man was protected under the act. He may now continue to reside in the U.S. independently of his former wife. He has met a lovely young woman who truly loves him and they will be married in the near future.
Sharma related another case that is particularly disturbing because a child is involved. After a lovely young Siberian woman posted her picture on the Internet, a wealthy local 65-year old man brought her and her child to his home. She is now his domestic slave, submits to his sexual depravities, endures physical abuse, and has to account for every minute of her time – but worst of all, she hears her child being verbally humiliated every day. The husband constantly demeans the child, calling her stupid and an idiot, but the wife feels she has no option but to stay and make the best of it; she has no money and nowhere else to go.
“Man’s inhumanity to man”
The above stories are only three examples of immigrants who have come to this country, hoping for a better life for themselves and/or their children. Are they part of a human trafficking ring? No, but their lives are no less miserable, because they are caught in the clutches of unscrupulous human beings who circumvent the law in search of ways to satisfy their schemes.
Today, the immigration issue is hotly debated and most of us are torn by all the ramifications involved, but these people, and countless others like them, are scattered throughout our country – brought here in good faith on their part, only to be relegated to lives of unspeakable misery and hopelessness. VAWA has helped free many of these people from bondage; however, our existing Immigration laws still give U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents a great deal of power which can be used against their spouses to propagate domestic violence with little fear of reprisal.
Poet Robert Burns’ dirge written in the 18th century, “Man was Made to Mourn,” surely applies to our society today:
“Many and sharp the numerous ills,
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heaven-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!”
VAWA – Violence Against Women Act – By Ashwin Sharma
Victims of domestic violence can be men or women, yet the U.S. Department of Justice reports that approximately 97% of the victims of domestic violence are women. The National Violence Against Women Survey, which records incidents of violence against women in America, states that one out of four U.S. women has been physically assaulted or raped by an intimate partner; however, whatever the rate in the general population, the percentage for immigrant women is probably higher.
Accurate statistics regarding assaults against immigrant women are difficult to come by because they often will not report abuse.
A sense of shame, insecurity, and the possibility of separation from their children may prevent these women from speaking out. They are also more vulnerable to abuse because their batterer can threat deportation to silence her.
In 1994 the Federal government enacted a comprehensive “Violence Against Women Act” as Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which is useful in preventing abuse of immigrant women. VAWA allowed victimized immigrants to file their own applications for lawful permanent resident status and created a new visa category for the spouses and their children and authorized the INS to issue up to 10,000 visas per year. Because the woman could self-petition, she no longer had to rely on a non-cooperative and abusive spouse. The Act in effect took away much of the power that the batterers held over their wives.
Two years after VAWA was passed, newly implemented immigration reform bills required that battered women return to their country of citizenship before their case could be heard, thus stripping from them the rights and privileges of American justice. These reforms also did not allow the battered wife to remain in the country if she had arrived on an incorrect visa status, or had overstayed it – a disturbing development because some abusive husbands, in an effort to retain control over their wives, knowingly did not submit an I-130 family petition for their wives.
Women who had grown desperate after repeated abuse and had divorced their husbands had no protection and were out of status because their status was considered a derivative of their husbands’. Their deportation was imminent, despite the fact that an abusive husband had forced them out of their marriages. Finally, an “extreme hardship” requirement was imposed on those victims who attempted to utilize the protections of VAWA.
VAWA was re-authorized in 1999/2000, and continues to take steps towards addressing the needs of battered immigrant women. They now do not have to leave the country to begin their petition for legal permanent residency. Divorced women are also allowed to request VAWA protection within two years of divorcing an abusive husband, if the divorce was related to the abuse.
The 2005 version of VAWA was signed into law by President Bush in December 2005.
The Self-Petition Procedure
To self-petition, an immigrant must show that:
• She was battered or subjected to extreme cruelty, and is or was married to a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident within the past two years. Unmarried children of the self-petitioner who are under age 21 may be included in the petition, OR
• She is the parent of a child who has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by that parent’s U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouse. The mother of the battered child may self-petition and include all of her unmarried children under age 21 who live in the U.S. in her petition.
The woman then must file an I-360 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The government filing fee is $190, which may be waived by INS if she proves
her inability to pay. The USCIS need not have authorization by or permission from the woman’s husband.
The I-360 form is available in person at a USCIS office, by calling 1-800-870-3676, or
as a PDF file that may be found at the http://www.bcis.gov website.
For more information, contact Ashwin Sharma, Esq., Leimbach & Associates,