CRS: Immigration: Noncitizen Victims of Family Violence (May 3, 2001) [pdf]

During the last decade, Congress has enacted special immigration provisions to assist the battered alien spouses (most of whom are women) and children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. To deter immigration-related marriage fraud, Congress, in 1986 had established a two-year conditional status for alien spouses and children who obtained permanent residence based on a recent marriage. In most cases, the alien and his or her spouse had to submit a joint petition at the end of the two-year period to have the condition removed. This requirement posed problems for battered aliens, who spouses often refused to cooperate in the filing of joint petitions. The 1990 Immigration Act created a special waiver of the joint petition requirement for battered spouses and children.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 provided additional relief to noncitizen victims of family violence. It allowed them to file self-petitions for immigration preference status, rather than having to rely on their batterers to file initial petitions on their behalf. VAWA also established special requirements for battered alien spouses and children seeking relief from deportation.
In 1996, Congress enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility ACT (IIRIRA), which contained strong measures to deter illegal immigration. Under IIRIRA, battered aliens were eligible for various exemptions. IIRIRA also amended the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which had placed restrictions on alien eligibility for federal benefits.
The 106th Congress enacted the Battered Immigrant Protection Act (BIWPA) as part of the VAWA reauthorization bill. The Act provides relief in various areas, including cancellation of removal, adjustment of status, and self-petitioning. BIWPA included language from several similar bills that proposed to expand existing protections for noncitizen victims of family violence. They include measures to prevent violence against women, as well as bills to provide economic security and safety for battered women and to provide protection for battered alien women.