Government Statistics Paint Grim Portrait of 'Abused' Alien Spouses

By David North on September 9, 2016

Distressing new statistical information — from the government itself — paints an unattractive picture of the population of "abused" spouses claiming green card status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

As we noted in a previous blog post, the number of spouses successfully claiming these benefits almost tripled between FY 2013 and FY 2014, going from 3,318 to 8,706.

In each case the alien, usually a woman, married a U.S. citizen or green card holder and later persuaded the government that the U.S. resident was abusive — hence an automatic green card for the alien in question.

There is a substantial amount of fraud in this program, with alien spouses often deserting the person they married and then falsely charging that person with abuse, as Dan Cadman and I have reported (see here and here).

The feds call these spouses (both genuine and fraudulent ones) VAWA self-petitioners; since there is no one in the United States to petition for their admission, they are allowed to do so for themselves. Last week we at CIS discovered an obscure (but public) dataset deep within the Department of Homeland Security that brought out more information about this growing but little-known population.

The data shows that the self-petitioners (both fraudulent and genuine) are:

  • Apparently uninterested in working legally in the United States, and

  • Much more likely to be denied employment authorization documents if they do apply than are other groups of aliens applying for the same documents.

In broad terms, the vast majority of these spouses are of marrying age, and thus of working age, but they have either not applied for the employment authorization documents for which they are usually eligible or (a smaller number) have had their EAD applications rejected by the normally tolerant decision makers in DHS.

When you put these two factors together (applying for and receiving decisions on the applications), only 17 percent of the VAWA self-petitioners have secured the right to work in the United States. The other five-sixths of this population is either working illegally, existing on funds extracted from their allegedly (and in some cases clearly) abusive spouses, or are being supported by others, including in some cases a new household partner.

Very few of the VAWA self-petitioners are parents, usually with some prior partner, not the one that got them into the United States. In FY 2014, for example, there were 8,706 self-petitioning spouses and only 969 of these spouses' children; assuming say 800 one-or-more-child families, this would mean that about 7,900 of these spouses were childless, but only 3,793 had secured EADs, as we can see from the table below.

When the spouses did file for EADs, 26 percent of them were denied; this denial rate compares with an overall denial rate of 3.3 percent for EAD petitions. Why the "abused" spouse denial rate is almost eight times the usual denial rate is not clear, but it does show that one set of DHS decision-makers had real questions about the validity of the papers before them.

Most "Abused" Alien Spouses Do Not Seek Legal Jobs in the United States

1 2 3 4 5 6
Fiscal Year Abused Spouses
Abused Spouses
Seeking EADs
Col. 5 as
Pct. of Col. 2
FY 2011 6,279 667 201 466 7%
FY 2012 4,209 1,193 559 628 15%
FY 2013 3,318 1,056 348 690 21%
FY 2014 8,706 2,554 298 2,009 25%
Totals 22,512 5,470 1,405 3,793 17%

Sources: Column 2 is calculated from the Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics, 2011-2014, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Table 7. Columns 3, 4, and 5 are from USCIS's System CIS Consolidated Operational Repository (CSI COR) Class C31. Column 6 is calculated from Columns 2 and 5.

Methodological Note. The populations in the table are roughly comparable to each other and overlap each other, but the EAD numbers are not precise subsets of the admission numbers, as each entry deals with a work product for a particular year, and an admission in 2011, for example may have led to an EAD application the following year. EAD applications, for the same reason, do not sum to the total of grants and denials. Over time, however, the ratios are both significant and worrisome.