VAWA and a Father and Son Reunion

I met Elliott  (not his real name), in the spring of 2020. He was devastated because his U.S. citizen wife had destroyed his life. He gave up a promising internship to move to a different state be with her; when she asked if her family could move in, he agreed – unaware that they had drug addiction issues. He did all of this at first because he was in love. Then, when she told him she was pregnant with their first child, he did it to protect his growing family. Elliott’s wife then started to use immigration as a threat against him, telling him she wouldn’t help him with any paperwork unless he paid for not just her needs, but for her entire family. She told him if he said no, that she would have him deported.

Elliott didn’t know what to do. He wanted to be around his wife since she was pregnant with their child, but he couldn’t live under the constant threats and stress. He moved out shortly before her due date to preserve his sanity and safety. He believed that his wife would let him know about the baby. She didn’t. She gave birth to their son and didn’t tell Elliott. It took going to court before Elliott could gain any custody rights. Even then, she made excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t see their baby boy. It took over a year for Elliott to finally meet his son.

After learning about Elliott’s story, I knew this was a strong VAWA case. VAWA doesn’t require physical violence – the standard is “extreme cruelty.” It’s hard to imagine anything more cruel than not letting an expectant and excited man not know about the birth of his son. And then withholding custody, too. Elliott was clearly upset at not being able to spend that important first year with his son – and who could blame him? He’ll never get that time back.

Preparing the case was a challenge. Not because of Elliott, but for VAWA cases where men are the petitioners, we have to provide extra-strong evidence because they don’t file VAWA at the same rate that women do. Also, the culture that Elliott comes from (like most) emphasizes strong, unemotional, masculinity. Sharing vulnerabilities, like how he felt weak around his wife, how his self-esteem was at an all-time low…it’s so hard to break free from the stigma that surrounds that, but Elliott did an amazing job and was able to share his story effectively.

We filed for VAWA and for Elliott’s green card in the summer of 2020. In the fall of 2022, his VAWA case was approved. Just last month, his green card was approved. He insisted on coming into the office to pick up the card himself. Last Friday, he and his son came to see us.  My heart was beyond full. Seeing Elliott and his son reunited, seeing the relief wash over Elliott’s face when he saw his green card for the first time…words just can’t describe it. I’m so happy for this family – that Elliott can live without fear, that the future is open to whatever he wants it to be, and that he can be a wonderful father to a son he loves so very, very much.


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