It is not uncommon for some marriages to fail. In the name of love, the couple plows through the challenges, hoping that things will work out well eventually. In the process, someone may get hurt. It is acceptable..
What is not is when the union is marred by physical, emotional and psychological abuse or extreme mental cruelty by one spouse against the other. We often hear of stories about a “kababayan” trapped in an abusive marriage, a willing victim of a ruthless abuser. And the situation is not in favor of our kababayans because they have to suffer through the relationship and are afraid that if they abandon the abusive spouse, they would be reported by that US citizen-spouse for having entered into a “sham marriage” that can result in deportation .
Most of the time, the relationship started glowingly, like the sparks of the 4th of July fireworks framing the silhouette of a sailboat anchored in Lake Michigan.
Prior to 1986, petitions for alien spouses to live permanently in the US were approved without conditions. If the US citizen-spouse starts to be abusive, the alien spouse can leave immediately without fear of losing his/her green-card status.
In 1986, the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments (IMFA) changed the law. Now marriage only gives a conditional residence status. There is a two-year test to determine the authenticity of the marriage. The couple is required to jointly petition the government before the expiration of the two-year period to lift the conditions. It is only then that the residence status becomes permanent.
If the US citizen-spouse refuses to jointly petition or divorces the alien-spouse, the latter can be removed from the United States (except when waiver situations apply). This gives the impression that the couple MUST stay together at all cost, or else, the green card status can be taken away. It seems harsh, but the law’s intentions are valid, designed to protect US citizens from unscrupulous aliens who marry only for the green card.
However, the IMFA takes exception to those alien spouses who suffer in the hands of their abusive US citizen-spouses.
IMFA provides for a waiver for those spouses who entered into the marriage in good faith and find themselves in an abusive relationship.
The battered spouse syndrome has entered the immigration arena. They need not suffer by staying in the marriage and wait for the two-year period before filing the joint petition. Proof of spousal battery includes police reports, medical records, witness affidavits, pictures showing the physical abuse, reports of social workers and a psycho-social report of an accredited psychiatrist in the field.
The law may be burdensome, but it is fair. It will not protect abusers and will provide relief to those who entered into marriage in good faith and find themselves trapped with no way out.