If you’re filing for US residency under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) due to emotional abuse, you probably have many questions. In addition to filing a self-petition, you must submit evidence demonstrating that you meet VAWA’s eligibility requirements.
The self-petition is a crucial aspect of approval; in it, you must describe your relationship with your abuser and detail the abuse you suffered. While this can be traumatic, it’s necessary for your application to be approved.
Find a Private Place to Write
Before you begin filling out your petition, make sure to take precautions to protect your privacy. Consider the privacy of your phone, tablet, or computer, as you might be using the same device, network, or phone plan as your abuser.
If you are, then your abuser could potentially look through your search history or track your activity, putting you in an unsafe situation. Many smart devices contain GPS tracking or cameras that can monitor or locate your whereabouts. It’s even possible to slip a small tracking device into a bag, car, pocket, or other belongings.
If you’re concerned about your privacy, we recommend using a third-party device, such as a library computer. You can also seek help from organizations that work with victims of domestic violence to protect your privacy, such as RAINN or the National Violence Domestic Hotline.
Evidence to Include With Your Self-Petition
There’s a variety of evidence you need to include with your VAWA self-petition (known legally as USCIS form I-360). At a minimum, your evidence should include:
- A personal, written declaration describing your relationship with your abuser and the abuse you suffered (more on what to include in this letter below)
- Any evidence to support that you’re a person of “good moral character” (such as a police clearance letter)
- A copy of your birth certificate or passport
- Proof that the abuser is a green card holder or US citizen (their birth certificate or U.S. passport)
- Proof that you are the abuser’s child, spouse, or parent
- If you are filing based on marriage to the abuser, proof that your marriage is/was in good faith
- Evidence that you suffered abuse (this can be your personal statement without any other evidence, in some cases)
- Proof that you live/lived with the abuser
- Proof that you currently live in the US
How to Write VAWA Letter
You need to write the VAWA letter (commonly referred to as a personal declaration letter or personal statement) like a story in your own words. In it, you must detail why you think you qualify for a self-petition.
Before you begin drafting the letter, gathering your thoughts and taking notes on everything that has happened between you and your abuser can be helpful. Once you’ve taken some notes, here’s what you should put in each section of the letter:
Beginning the Letter
Your VAWA letter should begin with the following statement:
- “I swear under penalty of perjury that the following is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.”
Then, you should move on to describe your relationship with your abuser and why you believe you are eligible for VAWA. Try to include the following details in this section of the letter:
- How you met your abuser
- How your relationship developed
- How long you dated before marrying
- Why you decided to get married/if you were in love
- How long you’ve been married
- Whether you have children/How long you were together before having children
- What your home life looks like
Detailing the Abuse
While it can be difficult to recount the abuse you’ve suffered, try to be as detailed as possible. Include any times, dates, reports filed, photos, emails, or text messages. We realize that you likely won’t have pictures to support a case for emotional abuse, so try to include as much digital communication as possible that helps your story.
Some questions you want to answer in this section include:
- When did the abuse start?
- How and when did your spouse’s relationship with you change?
- How did your spouse act toward you after an abusive outburst?
- Did your spouse verbally threaten you?
- Did you ever receive medical treatment for your abuse?
- In what ways did your spouse exert control over you?
- Did your abuser hurt or threaten other friends or family members?
Was your VAWA denied after Prima Facie? Click here to learn what happens next!
Showcasing Moral Character
In the letter’s final section, you need to prove that you are a person of “good moral character.”
For example, you can describe your volunteer efforts, provide letters from places of worship, provide character references from friends, family members, employers, or landlords, or write about how you support your family or friends. A clean criminal record will also help support this claim. (If you have committed a crime, you’ll want to seek help from a lawyer.)
Ending the Letter
Finally, you want to close out the letter similarly to how you began the letter. End the letter with the following statement:
- “I declare under penalty of perjury that the preceding is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.”
Lastly, sign and date the letter.
Related: VAWA for Parents of US Citizens
Writing a VAWA Emotional Abuse Letter: Time to Get Started
As you can see, a lot goes into penning a VAWA emotional abuse letter. Writing this letter alone can be challenging, so we recommend contacting a lawyer for support.
While your immigration lawyer can’t write the letter for you, they can help you ensure your letter has all of the elements it needs to be approved. A good VAWA immigration attorney knows what kinds of follow-up questions to ask you in order to ensure that you are including the most relevant information in your letter.