One of the Most Obscure Green Card Categories: Abused Parents of U.S. Citizens

By David North on December 31, 2019

One of the most obscure, least attractive, and hardest-to-secure ways of getting green card status is to claim that the alien has been abused or battered by one's citizen children. (Green card holders, on the other hand, can beat up on their parents to their hearts' content and it will not produce any immigration benefits for the victims.)

Whether this is conscious policy or not, the current leadership of USCIS is approaching the problem by pushing it to one side. In FY 2018 there were 1,007 applications for this benefit, resulting in 49 approvals. That's better than 20:1 odds against the applicants.

There were a substantial number of denials in this category, 133; this from an agency that routinely says yes about 90 percent of the time, but that's only a small fraction of the answer. Between the end of FY 2017 and the end of FY 2018, the number of pending cases increased by 812.

It is, of course, a lot easier to say "later" than to say "no", but the government has to face up to the unpleasant task of making real decisions about what was, at the last count, 1,546 pending cases in this group.

Let's think about these applicants for a moment. Presumably one cannot go to the government and say "my three-year-old citizen child is making my life miserable, so give me a green card."

Further, since 21-year-old citizens can, and do, ask for green cards for their parents, that would make it unlikely that the alien parents would call abuse on a teenager, on the grounds that between now and the 21st birthday the offspring might be convinced to file a petition on behalf of the parent or parents. The approval rate for such petitions is over 90 percent. But after the child is 21, if there is an estrangement, the abuse option could be considered by the unhappy parents.

Let's further assume that no fraud is involved in the case (as there must be in many), we have, as a population, a group of people whose lowest age is about 40, who are by definition losers in their struggles with their own kid or kids, and who have no other way of getting a green card. I have just described an unattractive group of prospective migrants.

Incidentally, the alleged abuse must have happened in the United States, and not abroad, as the overwhelming majority of self-petitioning (i.e., abused) parents secured adjustment to green card status, not the grant of admission from overseas. (See columns two and three in the table that follows.) So, if the parents are here, and are not, by definition, in either citizen or green card status, this visa must be, in fact, a kind of ugly amnesty.

So most of the winners in these abuse cases are probably illegal aliens; maybe it would be a good idea if USCIS sponsored a series of modest research efforts that would tell us something about various classes of immigration beneficiaries, so that policy people do not have to guess about such matters.

Given what I just said it is no wonder that USCIS in recent years has been saying "no" much more often than "yes" to these petitions.

Migration Applicants Claiming Abuse by Their Citizen Children, 2013-2019

Fiscal Year Approvals of Petitions & Denials Admissions Adjustments Admissions plus Adjustments Pending at End of Year
2013 n/a <3 17 19 (Est.) n/a
2014 n/a 3 43 46 n/a
2015 n/a <3 119 121 (Est.) n/a
2016 n/a 4 97 101 n/a
2017 <10 / 131 4 43 47 356
2018 49 / 133 n/a n/a n/a 1,168
2019 (6 mos.) 84 / 105 n/a n/a n/a 1,546

Sources: Columns two and six, "Number of Form I-360 ... VAWA Self-Petitioner by Fiscal Year, Quarter, and Case Status 2018"; columns three, four, and five from the Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics, Table 7.

Notes: An approved petition can be used to migrate in a year subsequent to the year of the decision; the < symbol relates to the irritating custom of USCIS to report small numbers, once one and two, and more recently less than 10, as "D". Unfortunately, USCIS did not publish approvals and denials numbers prior to 2017, and has not published recent admissions and adjustment data.

The take-away from the table above is that most of the numbers are small, except for those in the lower right-hand corner, which have grown sharply in recent years.

The Non-Abused Parents Category. More than 99 percent of the parents of citizens admitted to, or adjusted within, this country arrive under happier family circumstances. Their petitions have been signed by their children. Their recent numbers (from the Yearbooks of Immigration Statistics) have varied from year to year.

Year Total of Parent Admissions
and Adjustments (Non-Abused)

2015 132,838
2016 173,753
2017 148,563

These numbers fluctuate as there are no ceilings for these admissions. Given the need for their children to be 21 or older to file for them, this is a population that is presumably at least in their 40s when they arrive.

My sense is that while these are chain migrants by definition, they are less likely to cause more chain migration because of their demographics. They are too old to have many children, and since they have arrived married to each other, for the most part, they will not produce many new spousal migrants.

Perhaps these numbers will fall in the future, if the Trump administration's rules on medical insurance, and on the prospect of becoming a public charge, take hold.