The Awesome VAWA Attorney, the Awful Person

The Awesome VAWA Attorney, the Awful Person

In the 1990s, inside the red brick buildings of the University of Pennsylvania’s law school, I started my career and ended my humanity.  For years, the professors drilled that attorneys must issue spot. Issue spot. Issue spot. Attorneys issue spot, meaning prove the facts needed to win based on the law. We look for false facts the way doctors hunt for infections and farmers hunt for pests. Thirty years of this has made me a good lawyer, but a rotten person.

VAWA, the Marriage and the Lease

As an example, the Violence Against Women Act requires facts proving (a) the abuser and survivor had a valid marriage, including living together, (b) the abuser was a legal permanent resident or U.S. citizen, (c) and abuse occurred. In response to questions about the marriage, potential clients do not uncommonly begin to cry. The loss of an imagined future takes time to absorb. They tell me how a husband spoke kindly during courtship, drove their child to school in the beginning, and slowly changed. They became an abuser — my description, never theirs.  

Instead of lingering on the emotions, I ask directly, “Was your name on the lease?”

Why are Documents Important in a VAWA case?

After the initial conversation with a client, I review documents.  Pesky contradictions can result in green card denials, and I avoid denials like nuns avoid luxury car dealerships. From decisions of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service: “In the statement, the applicant claims to have moved in with her husband in April 2020, but the lease provided states that the date of move was January 2021.”  “In the statement, the applicant claims that her husband is a U.S. citizen, but she failed to provide any document demonstrating this.” As if USCIS never holds a paradox. A younger me would have written USCIS a strongly worded letter: on your website home page, you claim to issue work permits but the government representative on the phone conceded they cannot give a time frame for work permit printing. Now, I know better. Now, I understand government investigations. Dishonest clients are driven by personal gain.

As I listen to potential clients, I imagine how an immigration officer would respond. Questioning has become my armor against deceit and disappointment. Did he choke her or push her or both? In what order? Who heard the argument? Why did no one hear the argument? For decades, I have arrogantly believed my skepticism benefits my clients, increases their chances of winning. The firm’s almost 100 percent VAWA approval rate seems to show that. I now wonder – often, actually – if believing the clients from the beginning would make me a better attorney. A better person. Extending empathy to others and a chance at redemption to myself.

Disclaimer – These entries are based on real life events. Family member names, when used, are real. Client names are changed for privacy.