ASISTA Releases Practice Advisory on Representing Criminalized Immigrant Survivors (Jan. 2023) 



Kirsten Rambo, 

Cristina Velez, 

ASISTA Releases Practice Advisory on Representing Criminalized Immigrant Survivors

ASISTA has released a practice advisory for immigration practitioners that provides an introduction to the impacts of criminal-legal system contacts on eligibility for survivor-based immigration relief. Immigrant survivors may be criminalized for many reasons, including abusers using the criminal-legal system against survivors or forcing survivors to commit crimes, commission of crimes that are necessary for survival, and racially discriminatory over-policing. It is crucial that attorneys and advocates understand how criminalization may affect a survivor’s access to immigration relief and how to help survivors access life-saving relief despite a criminal record. This advisory surveys common criminal grounds of inadmissibility, bars to good moral character, exceptions, waivers, and the impact of criminal grounds of inadmissibility on eligibility for survivor-based remedies such as U-visas, T-visas, Adjustment of Status, VAWA Self-Petitions, and VAWA cancellation of removal. This practice advisory also contains practice tips for immigration practitioners who represent criminalized survivors and links to additional resources.

“In recent years, USCIS has taken an increasingly harsh approach to immigrant survivors with even minor criminal histories,” notes ASISTA’s Legal & Policy Director, Cristina Velez. “Many criminalized survivors experience arrest and conviction as an outcome of trauma flowing from abuse, including social isolation and lack of resources. Despite the broad waivers authorized by Congress to address this reality, USCIS routinely subjects survivors to unwarranted scrutiny of their arrests and mischaracterizes the impact of their convictions. We at ASISTA are glad to provide this resource to help advocates nationwide as they work with criminalized immigrant survivors to achieve the safety and stability promised by survivor-based remedies.”

To read the practice advisory, click here. 

Established in 2008, ASISTA is a national leader in the movement for safety and justice for immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. ASISTA’s founders helped write the immigration provisions of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (TVPA), affording legal status to hundreds of thousands of survivors and their children since 1994. With over 600 members nationwide, ASISTA’s work is focused on 1) providing expert case consultation, training, and resources to attorneys and advocates navigating the complex immigration system on behalf of survivors of gender-based violence, including intervening in specific cases as needed; 2) pushing for federal, state and local policies that ensure safety and justice for immigrant survivors; and 3) coordinating lawsuits to prevent the government from unfairly deporting survivors of violence. To learn more about ASISTA’s work, click here.