Legal Aid Society

Projects, Units & Initiatives

Domestic Violence Immigration Project

Established in 2003, the city-wide Domestic Violence Immigration Project (DV Immigration Project) represents survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence and their families in obtaining legal status through Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, battered spouse waivers, U and T visas, asylum and other immigration benefits. The Project works collaboratively with other Legal Aid Society practice groups and community-based organizations to holistically address the barriers faced by non-citizen survivors as they navigate a path towards safety and stability. This includes addressing family law, housing, benefits, and other legal needs, and providing external referrals for counseling and support. The Project has developed a particular expertise in representing the most vulnerable and marginalized survivors – those entangled in the criminal justice system’s pipeline to immigration enforcement and removal.

In addition to providing direct legal services, the DV Immigration Project is an established leader in building coalitions and promoting successful advocacy efforts to address issues impacting non-citizen survivors in New York City, including the establishment of U certification protocols with the District Attorney’s Offices, the New York Police Department, the Administration for Children’s Services, and other city and state certifying agencies.

Our Impact

Many of the DV Immigration Project’s clients are routinely threatened with deportation by their abusers who often exploit the court system to maintain power and control over them. This can have devastating and severe consequences for non-citizen survivors. In one such case, the DV Immigration Project represented Ann who had experienced severe domestic violence at the hands of her ex-boyfriend John whose threats to have her deported kept her isolated and under his control. While she was pregnant with their child, John attacked Ann and she scratched him in self-defense. They were both arrested and issued a protection order against the other. John was later arrested again for violating Ann’s order of protection against him. John retaliated by falsely reporting to the police that Ann violated his order of protection causing her to be arrested two more times. John made his threats a reality by exploiting Ann’s undocumented status and lack of familiarity with the criminal justice system. As an additional negative consequence of her arrest, Ann was placed in removal proceedings.

The DV Immigration Project worked collaboratively with the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice to achieve a full dismissal of the three criminal cases pending against Ann. The Project also obtained a U certification from the District Attorney’s Office affirming that Ann was a domestic violence survivor and was helpful in the prosecution against John for the crimes he committed against her. Once her U was granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), Ann’s removal proceedings were terminated. Her six other children were also able to benefit as derivatives on her U application and reunite with her in the United States.

As Ann battled the threat of deportation, Legal Aid Society colleagues were able to provide her with much-needed support including counseling, housing, and public benefits assistance. This not only helped Ann achieve stability for her and her children but greatly influenced the outcome of her immigration case. The DV Immigration Project subsequently represented Ann and her children in obtaining lawful permanent resident status.

*All client names and certain other personally identifying details have been altered to protect clients’ confidentiality.