When “Irina,” a young undocumented woman, met “Francis,” a U.S. citizen, she thought she had found true love. Instead, she found herself married to a man who put her life at risk.

At first, Francis seemed like the kind of loving and supportive partner Irina had always wanted, but he quickly turned violent. He hit Irina, sexually assaulted her, shamed her, isolated her from support networks, and made her feel worthless and alone. One day, after a violent sexual encounter, Irina asked a neighbor to call the police despite her grave fears of being arrested based on her immigration status.

The police arrested Francis and took Irina to a domestic violence shelter, where she was referred to AI Justice. With the help of an AI Justice attorney, Irina filed a petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Because abusers often use immigration status to control and instill fear in undocumented partners, VAWA allows survivors like Irina to petition for an immigration benefit directly, without reliance on an abuser.

After two long years, the U.S. government approved Irina’s VAWA petition. This approval was a vital step forward in Irina’s efforts to gain independence and economic stability, but it was not the only step. With an approved VAWA petition Irina obtained a driver’s license, a social security number, and work authorization. Irina then convinced the immigration judge to terminate her immigration case so that she could become a lawful permanent resident.

Irina now lives safely in Miami and is in the process of applying for a green card.