Gathering Evidence in VAWA Cases



Good morning, good morning, good morning. My name is Ifeoma Odunlami. I’m an immigration attorney from the Odunlami Law Firm, for those who do not know me. I am an immigration attorney and I’m an immigrant as well. Our passion here at Odunlami Law Firm, is to fight for fellow immigrants to make sure that they can get their American dream. We want immigrants who are empowered. I don’t know how… I’m sorry, guys. This is my first time doing Instagram, so I’m not sure where I should be looking. I’m going to look at Facebook and then I’ll… From time to time, I’ll look up, okay?

It’s my passion to bring this information to you guys so that you are empowered, you’re knowledgeable, because knowledge is power. We all know that. I think to myself that if only many, many, many years ago, when I was an immigrant, we had this social media. Gosh, how helpful that would have been in helping me navigate all the anxiety of the immigration processes. I’m really happy to be able to do this for you guys, to be able to give you information that allows you to know what your options are now. Remember that, this is not by any means legal advice. I’m not giving you legal advice because I don’t know your story. I always tell my clients please don’t put your story on social media because anybody can read it, including USCIS or maybe an abusive spouse that you don’t want to know what you’re doing. If you have any questions, the best thing to do is consult an attorney who will listen to you and know your particular case and be able to give you legal advice.

This is just for informational purposes only. Having said that, today, I have a wonderful topic. This topic, I’ve wanted to talk about it because it’s really about gathering evidence in VAWA cases. I have so many clients who are so worried that they don’t have anything to prove their case. Today I want to talk about some of the creative ways that you can collect evidence to assist your lawyer in building a solid case. For me a lot of times, like I said, we have clients who have nothing and that’s part of the abuse. They have nothing because their abusers are not giving them the information they need. They have nothing because the turmoil they’re going through does not allow them to think about getting this evidence, or sometimes they’ve been kicked out of the house and they have nothing.

How do you gather evidence and create a strong case? Now, you’ll be happy to know this. First of all, USCIS is aware of this. They are aware that VAWA self petitioners, and for the purposes of just being… For clarity I’ll call VAWA self petitioners, self petitioners, and then the abusers, abusers. USCIS is aware that self petitioners, VAWA self petitioners have a unique difficulty in gathering evidence because of the nature of their status. They’re in abusive relationships with people who are not giving them the evidence or who are making sure that they don’t have that evidence. Right? Because of this, USCIS has created a more realistic standard of VAWA self petitioners when it comes to providing evidence. That standard is called any credible evidence. Basically, if you can provide evidence that’s credible even if you don’t have the official documentation, USCIS will accept it.

That’s what I’m going to talk about today. Let me go to comments, so I can see the comments. I’m not really familiar with Instagram, so I’m not sure if I know how to read the comments. Maybe we’ll leave that for another day, but if I see the comments after this live, I will answer it. Okay? One thing at a time. Today we’re going to talk about how to gather evidence. I’m going to go through the requirements, the things we’re looking for and how to think outside the box. I tell you, that’s the part of creating a VAWA case that gives me most joy, most satisfaction is when I have a client who sometimes has nothing and we’re able to talk to them. We go through an interviewing process where we ask them questions and based on their answers, we’re able to think outside the box to see well can we get this information that can prove that this is what’s going on.

I’m going to go through this one at a time. Once I’m done with my presentation, I’ll open up the floor to answer questions, okay? All right. The first thing we’re going to talk about is how do you show the relationship to the abuser?

For you to file a VAWA case, there’re different ways. You have to be either married to a US citizen or Green Card holder, you have to be the child of a US citizen or Green Card holder, or you have to be the parent of a US citizen only, not a Green Card holder who is 21 and above. Also, if your child is being abused by a US citizen or Green Card household, even if you as a parent has not been abused, you can also file and get a Green Card due to the abuse that your child has suffered.

Let’s talk about showing relationship between a self petitioner and an abuser when it’s a marital relationship. We can get a marriage certificate, right? But what happens when you don’t have a marriage certificate because the abuser has it, or they kicked you out of the house and you don’t have that document? That happened to one of my clients. We were able to locate where they got married and we had to call Vital Statistics, and obtain the marriage certificate for them.

Now, another thing is when… If you, as a self petitioner have been married in the past or your abuser has been married in the past, you’re really required to show how that marriage, the prior marriage has ended. You have to show if it ended through divorce or through death.

I’m going to give you examples of things we have done in my office. I had a client who had a prior marriage prior to the abusive relationship she was in. That prior husband had actually divorced her and had died. She didn’t know anything about him because he actually… They weren’t together when he filed the divorce, and she wasn’t sure where he lived, didn’t know much about him, but she had found out somewhere or the other that he had divorced her.

She didn’t have those documents. What we did was we did a search for his name, and we found a death notice online saying that he had died. We found out where the funeral home was, we called and were able to call the county to inquire whether they had a death certificate for him. They did and were able to get a death certificate for her in that case. Those are the ways we talk about thinking outside the box. So your client doesn’t have a death certificate, it’s not a problem. You figure out how can we get it. As sometimes you might not be able to do the way we did, you might be able to do something else. Maybe you know a family member who can write an affidavit saying he died, or maybe there was a hospital or something, but there’s always a way to get the information you need. That USCIS understands that you’re not always able to get it, so they allow us to think outside the box to get this information for you.

Now, another thing I want to talk about. If the abuser was not divorced or you don’t even know if he was divorced, but you believed he was divorced and was available to marry you, but you don’t have a divorce certificate, because of course, he’s not going to give it to you, or she’s not going to give it to you. USCIS has a special rule for VAWA self petitioners.

If you’re married to somebody and you later find out the person is a bigamist, which means that the person was married but not properly divorced and married you, you can still petition under VAWA. As long as you can show that you believed that the person was available to marry you and you had actually a ceremony, some kind of ceremony, civil ceremony, registered ceremony, church ceremony. If you can prove that then they will accord you the ability to file for a VAWA petition even though that marriage was void because the abuser was not in a position to marry you. Okay? That’s showing relationship to the abuser. Let’s go to the second portion, which is showing the status of the abuser. Now, like I said, if you’re married to an abuser, he has to be a US citizen or a Green Card holder.

If you’re the child, your parents or stepparent must be a US citizen or Green Card holder, right? The step-relationship must have taken place before the child turned 18. If you’re the parent, same thing. It’s a US citizen. You have to show that that child is a US citizen. Now of course with parents, it’s easier to show that your child is a US citizen, because you are the parent. But for people in a relationship, in a marriage relationship with an abuser, it’s hard sometimes to show that the abuser is a US citizen or Green Card holder. What do you do? Well, there are many ways to do this and I’ll go through them with you. First of all, if your abuser has a birth certificate, a US passport, a Green Card Certificate of Naturalizations, of course those are the official documents that make it really easy.

However, if they don’t have that, what do you do? If that abuser had filed for you before and you have you haven’t proved that I want that to petition, that can stand in the space of all the other four things I mentioned and I proved I want that to petition, you can show your abuser’s status as a US citizen or a Green Card holder. Also, if you have any documentation, even if you don’t have an approved I-130, we have any documentation with the abuser’s A-number that’s helpful to USCIS. You can give it to them and they will do the work themselves or you can do a FOIA. Now, FOIA is Freedom Of Information Act. You’re able to get all your records with USCIS. If you have that information or you have information of somebody that abuser had filed for substance, such as your child. I had a case where the abuser filed for the stepchild, but we do the petition for the parents.

We had the children’s information, the A-number because my client didn’t have any information whatsoever ever for himself. We’re able to use the A-number of the children, their Green Cards that were approved. We sent all of that in to show that the abuser filed for the stepchildren and therefore is a US citizen or a Green Card holder. In this case, the abuser was a US citizen. So, you have to think outside the box. Okay? Okay. I’m not sure what’s happening with Instagram, but let’s… Okay. Sorry about that. Let’s get back. I think I’m frozen in Instagram. If you can join us on Facebook, we’re doing great on Facebook. Okay? All right. Now, if you can get the voter’s registration card of your spouse, that’s another way to show that your spouse is a US citizen, because you know that only US citizens can vote.

There are ways around this. When a self petitioner comes to our office, we go over all of this trying to figure out what we can do, where we can get information from to be able to help them meet this any credible evidence standard. The third thing we have to show in a VAWA case is joint residency, that you and your abuser lived together for some period of time. Now, USA, they don’t give you any amount of time you have to live together, but you must have lived together. To show that you’ve lived together, what do you typically show? If you have a lease together. Now, I always tell my people that the least should be signed. Don’t have leases that are not signed, it’d be great if they were signed, but if they will not sign that, you can get the landlord to write an affidavit saying that both of you lived together from when to when, that’s really helpful.

Or your neighbors, that’s really helpful too. What else, let’s see. If you have utility bills together, you don’t have to have both names on the same utility bill. But, if during the same period of time, there’s a utility bill for self abuser for a cable and a utility bill for the… Sorry, self petitioner for cable and the utility bill for the abuser for gas at the same period of time, that shows that both of you were living together at that time because you’re receiving bills, even though it’s two separate people, but it’s the same address. If you have children’s school records, you know how sometimes you sign up when you sign up your kids, register them for school.

If your name is there as a parent or an emergency contact, that’s really helpful in showing that that was joint residence. That’s also helpful in showing a bonafide marriage. Excuse me. We can also get affidavits from people that just knew you guys together, have come to your house, have visited you when they did, that kind of thing. Whatever you can get, we walk you through the process based on what you’re telling us your story is to figure out what we can get that will meet that standard of any credible evidence. Okay? Let’s go to showing a bonafide marriage. We all know that sometimes, as part of the abuse, the abuser will refuse to open a bank accounts with you, will refuse to allow you to share utility bills, will refuse a whole bunch of things just so that they have control and to prevent it, to prevent you from being able to show proof of a bonafide marriage.

What do you do in that instance? If you have children together, of course that shows that a relationship you were having, you have children together or stepchildren together, you’re together in a bonafide marital relationship. Again, if you have stepchildren and you’re an emergency contact in their school or you’re registered as a parent in the school, or with their pediatrician. All that stuff is really helpful for showing that it’s a bonafide relationship, right? Also, if you have photographs, that’s really helpful. Photographs of you with people, family members, showing that people see you as a couple, that’s really helpful.

Now, joint financial interests. You’re required to show that your finances are commingled. You have bank accounts together, you have credit cards if you use it together, you have car leases, insurance, income, taxes, all that, that really helps. Sometimes you don’t have it, so what do you do if you don’t have it? Like I said, everybody’s story is different. Depending on your story, you could pull something out that shows that it’s a real relationship. For instance, like what I mentioned before, so you have a gym membership together. That’s helpful. Or you have bought a big ticket item together, such as a car, that’s helpful. There are different ways to go around it. I have to caution you. If you file your income taxes, please file it jointly as married. Some people will file as single because they think they will get more money.

When you have an immigration case, really, please, let your financial records reflect the reality of your relationship, which is that you’re married. If course, if you’re no longer married at the time you file the petition, maybe it’s a couple of years later and you don’t have that, that’s different. That’s fine because that’s not the case, but these are just examples. These are not exhaustive by any means.

Let’s talk about showing abuse. Typically, easy ways to prove abuse are you have a restraining order, you have a police report, you have a domestic shelter report, or you have, if the person was prosecuted or was arrested, you could show that the case went to court. All that stuff is evidence of abuse. If you have it, that’s relatively, that’s very helpful, but most of our clients don’t have those.

Why is that? Most immigrants do not want to call the police. They’re afraid. They suffer abuse, physical abuse, and they don’t call the police. Some of them of course suffer different types of abuse that’s not physical. Mental abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, and it’s always harder to show those by way of physical proof. If you have a text message from your spouse apologizing for doing something or apologizing for calling you something, that’s proof because it’s showing that this happened. Even if those text messages or emails, or maybe him or her being abusive on social media, those are all ways to prove abuse.

You can also get affidavits from people that know what you’ve been through. They may not have a direct knowledge. It may be knowledge based on what you told them, or maybe indirect knowledge because maybe they had to pick you up when the person kicked you out. You can get affidavits from those people so that they can help with the evidence in your case. I had a case where a child had gone to school and basically had told the teacher about his mother being physically abused in the house and the schools had called. Even though it was denied and nothing came out of it, but that happened. If you can get an affidavit from the teacher saying, well, this is what I heard even though nothing came out of it at the time, it was denied, but those are ways of building evidence, evidentiary value for your case.

What I want to say to people who want to file a petition is don’t get hung up on the fact that you don’t have enough evidence, because if you meet with an attorney and you get a proper consultation, or you do a proper screening, you’d be surprised at what information and what evidence can come out, because USCIS is really looking for any credible evidence. Sometimes if you’re in an abusive relationship and the person has been physically abusive and you never reported it, but that person has a history of aggravated assault against other people. Even though you’re not the victim in this case, the charges of assault on other people will tend to give more impact to your own story. Again, don’t worry about whether or not you have evidence.

If you’ve been abused, go to an attorney and get properly screened to see if you qualify for VAWA. We also have, if you’ve been seeing a counselor, like a therapist and talking about your problems, could even be a church therapist, that’s also helpful. There are many ways to get this evidence, even though you don’t have the “physical evidence” that everyone’s looking for, because people think that they have to have a police reports, they have to go to a shelter. No, no, no, you don’t need those. If you have them, great. But if you don’t have them, there ways to get around them to get your story heard.

The most important way to get your story heard is for you to tell your story, we call that a declaration. In your declaration, you’re going to discuss everything you’ve gone through, everything you went through, and there’s nothing that is as great as you speaking your own truth. Then you would get all this other information to help. I’m going to go onto the comments now to see, I don’t know what happened with Instagram, but we’ll try another day. So, let’s see. Hi, Travia. How are you?

Julio Vitay says, “How long does USCIS Texas take to response to parole proposition?” Honestly, Julio, it all depends. It’s really hard to gauge the length of time for lots of things now because of the pandemic, because of the new administration, they’re doing a lot of different things, but this administration is working hard to make things go move faster. That’s as much as I can say for that. The other question I have is from Darling Mma, who says, “Hello, I submitted that year to renewal on VAWA and the renewal fee has been deducted since April 21st, 2021 and I still haven’t received any notice from them. How do I proceed?”

You can contact via… There’s a VAWA hotline. Even though they’re not taking calls anymore, but they are taking emails so you can send them an email asking what’s going on. They’re typically quite fast to respond because it’s generally taken them a couple of weeks, three weeks. You can do that. [inaudible 00:25:47] said, “I want to ask. I have a friend that has been abused, but ended up having a child for someone else.” Varley, that does not matter. Just because you have a child for somebody else does not negate the abuse that the person who has been in the relationship. As long as that friend is not remarried, they could qualify for a VAWA petition, but I don’t know enough about this case to be able to give you more information.

You might want to ask your friend to call the office, schedule a consultation and let’s go over what’s going on in their case. I have another question from Amorelia Ray. You say, “Hi, Odunlami Law Firm, thanks for doing this. What is the success rate for VAWA petition for immigrants? Would recommend it in the absence of violence, absentia or runaway spouse? Amorelia Ray, I can’t tell you what the success rate for VAWA is. That’s something I’ve never checked, but I think it depends on different people, different law firms. You might want to ask them what their success rate is, but there’s not a general success rate for VAWA because VAWA is what we do. I would do a great job with it because we’re very detailed.

We make sure that our case is top heavy, we don’t pass counsel petitions. We make sure that we have all the information we need. And typically we push our clients to get us the information we need. You say, would I recommended in the absence of violence, but absentia, runaway spouse, that your question is not clear. However, I think what you’re asking is if there’s no physical violence but there’s maybe some type of other abuse. If there’s a runaway spouse, we need to know what. Did the person leave the petitioner without food, without money, without anything? I mean, there are different ways to show abuse. It could be extreme cruelty. It doesn’t have to be physical violence. Again, the person who has this issue is best served by consulting an attorney and having a proper screening. Sometimes the things that’s self petitioners think they’re not the things that are not aware are abusive are actually abusive behavior.

You want to tell your story and have an attorney discuss with you whether it could qualify for abuse under VAWA. I say this all the time, because sometimes, especially for us also from other countries, like I’m Nigerian. In my country, there are lots of things that would not qualify, we would not think it’s abusive. You have a relationship, say with a man and he’s taking money from you and making you do all the work, cleaning, cooking. Some people may not think that’s abusive because in our culture, typically we consider abuse to be physical. In the United States USCIS considers emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, they’re all abusive behavior. Again, you’re best served by having the proper consultation.

I have another… I’m sorry. Sure. Let’s see. Okay. Darling says, “I called and had just written them two weeks ago but I’m still waiting because my current EAD expires in two weeks. Although with the 180 day extension, how does this apply to driver’s license?” First of all, Darling Mma, if you are in New Jersey, New Jersey has different criteria now and they’re letting people without the so-called required papers get a driver’s license. With regards to your EAD, unfortunately, I don’t know when you applied for it, but it is taking some time with some of the work authorizations.

Typically it takes them about three months from when you file. Sometimes we get it earlier when you renew actually. I can’t really tell you what to do with that because that’s USCIS. Sometimes it takes longer. What you should be looking at is does this affect your job? Is your employer asking for you to have a current EAD? If that’s the case, then maybe you can explain to the employer that you have renewed it, show them the renewal. If you received the receipt showing that they received the renewal petition, maybe that might be helpful. I know some clients, their employers have found that helpful and have been able to go with that until they get their paperwork.

You said there’s no physical violence or any form of violence with a spouse who cannot be reached or who is absent. Okay. That’s going to be a difficult case. Just because a person is not available is not abuse, so that does not mean that your spouse cannot be reached or is absent, that may not qualify. That would not qualify you for VAWA but again, it depends. It depends on why the person can not be reached. If the person leaves the spouse in a lurch with no money, with no food, knowing that they don’t know anybody. It all depends. You have to tell a story. It’s hard. I cannot answer this question without a proper context. I need to know how the relationship was formed. How relationship went on, what happened? Why did the person leave? What happened before the person left? Without getting all that information, it’s hard to tell you, but basically the person just took off and you’re fine, that’s not abuse.

I don’t see any other questions. I’m going to wait for a couple of minutes and then I’m going to jump off, but I hope this has been helpful to you guys. Like I said again, the important thing is when you are intending to file a VAWA petition, get a proper screening on your case. Because a lot of cases, there are different factors that will qualify that person for VAWA abuse. Extreme cruelty would work. If you feel that you don’t have the documents, don’t sell yourself short by not contacting a lawyer to see if there’s ways that they can work your case. Many times, even without the evidence that’s required, they’re able to work your case. You’d be surprised and get your VAWA petition approved. That’s it for now. Happy Monday everyone, and I wish you all a great week. Take care.

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