Until Violence Do Us Part: Evaluating VAWA’s Bona Fide Marriage Requirement

By Anna Boltyanskiy

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows those victims of domestic violence who are married to U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents to “self-petition” for lawful status. To be approved under VAWA, the self-petitioner must prove, among other things, that her marriage was bona fide. This Note examines the practical difficulties that battered immigrants face in producing primary evidence of bona fide marriage and discusses the perverse incentives this requirement creates. Specifically, VAWA petitioners’ abusive spouses often destroy the documentation of bona fide marriage, never include the immigrant spouse’s name on the documents to begin with, or threaten further abuse if the immigrant spouse tries to obtain the documents. Because these issues are only amplified in a short-lived marriage, battered immigrants have perverse incentives to stay with their abusive partners longer, to marry their abusers, and to have children with them. As a possible solution, this Note argues that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should give greater weight to affidavits as qualitative proof of bona fide marriage, which allows VAWA petitioners to explain any documentary gaps and to tell their own stories.