(Paul Choi is an immigration attorney and professor of law located at 16000 Ventura Blvd. Ste 1201, Encino, CA. 91436. Atty  Choi will answer all questions regarding immigration and naturalization for free. Address questions to pchoi@pchoilaw.com or telephone 818 714-2226. Atty Choi is pleased to announce that his administrator is Philip Abramowitz who has 30 years of experience in immigration law.)
Question:  I am married to a U.S. citizen for two years now.  He petitioned me for permanent residence but when the interview came, my husband refused to appear.

Without my husband, I did not attend the interview either and two weeks later I received a denial notice and a notice to appear for a deportation hearing last December.  I was very scared and I did not attend the hearing in the Immigration Court because I thought that I would be deported.

My husband and I have been arguing and fighting for over a year now and sometimes he screams at me and makes me feel stupid. He threatens to have me deported and now is asking me for money if I want to have my greencard.

Last month I could not take it anymore and I moved out of the house.  I am very scared because I am afraid that the Immigration Service will come and arrest me. What can I do?

Answer: Ordinarily when a person has a deportation hearing and does not appear, the Judge enters an order of deportation nowadays called an Order of Removal In Absentia.

This means that you are ordered to be deported because you did not appear for yhour hearing and you gave no explanation for not showing up.  It is possible to get the deportation hearing reopened but ordinarily you must do so within 90 days and since the hearing was last December, that 90 day window has already expired.  What can you do now?

You may be in luck!  Since you detail abuse, (even verbal abuse,) by your U.S. citizen spouse, you may qualify for the benefits of the Violence Against Women Act or also known as VAWA.  This law was written to help both women and men who have been the victims of abuse at the hands of their mates.

The law has very very lenient terms that provide benefits to aliens that no other laws provide.  Often times this law is a saviour for those who think that they are all out of options and are ready to give up.

In a nutshell, the VAWA provides a path to permanent residence for a wide variety of immigration applicants who ordinarily would have no other resort.

Firstly, and most importantly, the applicant does not have to be here legally.  This means that an applicant for VAWA benefits can be out of status, an overstay, have worked illegally and even has entered illegally, without a visa, or has jumped ship as a crewman.

This bars that would normally prevent immigration for most applicants are not an impediment for those seeking VAWA benefits.  This is an incredible benefit that most overlook.

Secondly, the abuser need not cause physical harm to the applicant in order to qualify. Mental or emotional abuse is sufficient which can be proven by witnesses, doctor or psychiatrist letters, or by the applicant’s statements alone.

Thirdly, the abuser can be either a citizen or even a permanent resident as long as he is the spouse or intended spouse of the applicant.

One very little known benefit of VAWA is the generous provisions it provides to those in removal or deportation proceedings.  Filing under VAWA can stop deportation immediately.  Not only that, a person who was ordered deported as long as a year ago can go back to court and have his or her case reopened and the deportation stopped.  This benefit is amazing.

In your case since it has been less than a year since your deportation, you can safely go back to court, file a motion to reopen and have a second chance before the Court to become a legal resident-all without your husband’s cooperation!  You don’t need your husband’s permission, signature, or help.  This is the beauty of this law.

I have filed many VAWA petitions in just the last few months for persons who otherwise thought that they had no chance of getting their status legalized.  Most were hesitant to file afraid that their cases would be denied without a police report showing physical abuse or without their spouse’s help.

Most were afraid of the threats from their spouses that they would be deported without their assistance. Nonsense!  This law does not require the cooperation of the abuser-the law is meant to give the applicant freedom from abuse.

Finally, the beauty of this law is that the application is free. Yes, you heard that right, there is no filing fee to file a petition to seek benefits as an abuse spouse.   See, the USCIS made it easy for persons to apply.

Think about this option if you are a victim of abuse.  You don’t need to stand for it.

(Paul Choi will answer all questions regarding immigration and naturalization for FREE. Address questions to pchoi@pchoilaw.com or call 818 714-2226. He is located at 16000 Ventura Blvd. Ste. 1201, Encino, CA. 91436. Phil Abramowitz can be reached at pabramowitz@pchoilaw.com or on his cell at 818 324-8110)