FOIA USCIS Response to NIWAP’s FOIA on Battered Spouse Waiver Cases and Case Processing (August 25, 2017) [pdf]

This FOIA response discusses the application of VAWA confidentiality protections to battered spouse waiver and all VAWA cases; provides slides used to train on VAWA confidentiality and the rules that apply to district office staff adjudicating battered spouse waivers and VAWA adjustments of status applications for lawful permanent residency. These slides highlight the types of evidence that adjudicators cannot rely upon that come from the abuser under VAWA confidentiality law. It also discusses how many of the cases returned to the VAWA unit from district offices stems from reliance on regulations that were later overruled by subsequent VAWA statutes and have not been updated and highlight common returns that are errors. The training includes a copy of the 4.11.08 memo on adjustment of status for VAWA self-petitioners who are present without inspection. There are also documents discussing VAWA’s amendments designed to allow VAWA self-petitioners to remarry and the USCIS position on narrow implementation of the remarriage provisions. The materials provided in response to the FOIA provide detailed information in the form of emails, policies, and trainings warning adjudicators to not rely on perpetrator provided information in adjudicating VAWA self-petitions, adjustments or battered spouse waiver cases with good examples of the types of evidence that must be avoided, including not relying on perpetrator provided information in marriage based visa interviews. The policy discussing referrals from District offices for revocations for self-petitions is discussed. The response also included the memo on the 2 year custody and 2 year residency and custody exceptions for abused adopted children. Pages 1-57 of this FIOA response contain information applies primarily to VAWA self-petition or cases of abused adopted children.

Page 58 (Electronic page 72) of the response appears to be a check list of the types of evidence that may be fraud indicators or raise questions or lead to a request for further evidence (RFE) this appears to be self-petition related and it is not clear the extent to which it relates to battered spouse waiver cases.

Pages 59-61 and pp 88-91 directly related to battered spouse adjudications and provide direction on how District Office adjudicators are to respond when at an interview for a jointly filed request to remove conditions a battered spouse/child request to file a battered spouse waiver. These communications recognize the VAWA confidentiality implications in processing these requests. Pages 70-73 provide the formal interim process from changing from a joint petition to a battered spouse waiver.

Pages 62 -67, also provided on pages 82-87. Directly discuss battered spouse waiver adjudications with VAWA Unit staff providing examples the types of questions VAWA unit trained staff use in requests for further evidence (RFE) on the following topic proof of: extreme cruelty; battering (physical abuse); good faith marriage, residence with abusive spouse/parent. There is also included RFE language describing that marital tensions are not necessarily abuse. The materials also describe the three main reasons why battered spouse waiver adjudicators send cases to an interview at a field office. Any credible evidence rules are described and an explanation of Battering or Extreme Cruelty from Chapter 25 of the Adjudicators Field Manual is included. Page 92 also addresses similar issues.

Pages 76-78 set out the standard operating procedures (S)OP) used by District offices processing VAWA cases addressing both battered spouse waiver cases and VAWA self-petitions adjustments of status to lawful permanent residency. The SOP discusses interviews, the timing of interviews and the involvement of supervisors. It also discusses having a VAWA Point of Contact at the field office and their role. This SOP recognizes that some VAWA cases will be identified during an interview and any such cases are to be referred to the VAWA POC in the field office. This policy took effect August 1, 2011.

Pages 79-81 discuss the creation of the “384” code of admission notifying DHS staff that a case has VAWA confidentiality protection. It is interesting to note that no mention of battered spouse waivers are a case type is included in these communications despite VAWA 2005 defining battered spouse waivers as VAWA self-petitioners.