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U-Visas, VAWA, and Their Impacts on the Criminal Justice System

Immigrants-undocumented or not-are uniquely vulnerable to domestic violence and other serious crimes. The language barrier is often a hurdle to getting help from the authorities. Undocumented immigrants, of course, are afraid of getting in the police “system” and, eventually, being found out. Victims of certain crimes have a few options to parlay their difficult situations into U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency.

Two visas available for non-citizen victims of certain crimes are U-visas (U nonimmigrant status) and VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) petitions. Both offer crime victims a glide path to lawful immigration status. However, there are some subtle differences:

  • Those who wish to obtain a U-visa must cooperate with law enforcement.
  • The abuser must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for the victim to obtain lawful status under VAWA.
  • VAWA protections are only available to close family members of the perpetrator of a qualifying crime.
  • U-visas are subject to a yearly cap.
  • VAWA protections often provide faster approvals for green cards.

There are dozens of crimes that qualify victims for legal protections under U-visas, VAWA, or both. The vast majority of individuals applying for these protections are truthful in their allegations, making these visas important tools for some of the nation’s most vulnerable residents. However, there have been documented cases of fraud involved with U-visa and VAWA applications, which complicate certain defendants’ defense strategies.

Staged Robberies

In the past few years, the U.S. Justice Department has charged undocumented immigrants with conspiracy to defraud the United States. These individuals were found to have planned a fake robbery with co-conspirators.

More often than not, VAWA fraud involves false allegations of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Again, undocumented immigrants applying for VAWA protection must have a qualifying family member, which is usually a spouse. Many fraudsters plan false abuse allegations before they even meet their future spouse. Unfortunately, false criminal allegations can result in the destruction of a U.S. citizen’s reputation.

Furthermore, many undocumented immigrants use VAWA or V-visa protections to put them in a better position for a family law proceeding. On top of getting legal residency, parents might want to get sole custody of their children. False allegations of abuse and domestic violence happen within divorces of two U.S. citizens, but the stakes are arguably higher when one spouse is undocumented.


U-visas and VAWA protections are essential legal tools for undocumented victims of serious crimes in the U.S. Unfortunately, these are ripe for fraudulent criminal allegations. If you are facing domestic violence or other serious charges, you need experienced and aggressive counsel to protect your rights.

Attorney Ivette Petkovich and the rest of the team at Petkovich Law Firm would be honored to represent you and help resolve your legal matters. Call us today to discuss your options.


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