Did you know that one out of eight Americans are immigrants? America has always been a country of immigrants, and many foreign-born US residents have special needs that citizens don’t need to consider. Immigration has been a hot topic in the news recently, and if you’re working with immigrants, especially if they haven’t naturalized as citizens yet, it’s important to be aware of their legal rights.
Currently, there are federal laws on the books that protect two groups of immigrants: certain minor children and victims of domestic abuse. Here’s what they are:
Laws helping children
Two paths to US citizenship exist for minor children who are orphans or have American caregivers, allowing children to immigrate independently without their biological parents.
Youth 16 and under who are orphaned, or have parents that can’t or won’t care for them, have special adoption options within the US legal system. Immigrant children who can show that they are orphans, and that they’re a ward of the state in their country of residence, are eligible for international adoption within the United States. This immigration status applies to children already living in the US, or orphans living abroad can be adopted and brought in by US citizen or legal resident parents.
Children with living parents are also eligible to be privately adopted, if their guardian in the US can show they’re the child’s primary caregiver and that they’re caring for the child for reasons other than getting them a US passport. Unlike orphan adoption, children can’t usually be adopted directly from abroad, as the caregiver must care for them for a minimum of two years before applying.
Laws for victims of crime and domestic abuse
Immigrants who are victims of crime and domestic abuse are often fearful of reporting them because they don’t want their status as an American resident to be threatened. Two special immigration provisions, the U-Visa and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), were put in place to protect immigrants who are victims that encourage them to report crimes and get help.
The U-Visa is available to any American immigrant who was victimized in an act of crime that severely impacted their physical or mental health. Victims must report the crime, assist in any investigation if needed, and show they were victimized through evidence in a court of law.
Spouses (female or male) who are victims of domestic abuse are often eligible for US permanent residence or a waiver preventing deportation, even if their visa status was previously dependent on being married to their US citizen or permanent resident spouse. Recipients must report their crime, show evidence of abuse, and have gotten married to the abusive spouse in good faith. The VAWA act also protects immigrant victims of child abuse, elder abuse, and human trafficking.
Supporting American immigrants
Social workers play a key role in supporting vulnerable immigrants. When working with victims of crimes, they can help clients gather evidence and cooperate with local law enforcement. They can also help guide and support families through the adoption process of their immigrant children.
An important part of working with this group also involves case management with immigration services. Maintain relationships with local immigration services and attorneys, including pro bono and sliding scale options, that can guide clients through the legalities of immigration. Additional resources can include support groups for immigrants. Keep in mind that some organizations can only assist clients legally present in the US, while others can help regardless of the client’s immigration documentation status. Make sure to inquire about this when identifying key immigration referrals.