VAWA: What Not To Tell Immigration

My first memory is of the black snout of a baby turtle peeking over a white plastic bowl.  I was four years old then, the last summer in New York. I crouched beneath the bathroom sink, a stinky place to contain its salty smell, and stared at its little black eyes. A soul understood what I felt. We are so small, and the world is so big. My mother confirms she found the baby turtle on a beach in Long Island. Stealing wild animals is a crime, but what do I know? I’m just an attorney.

Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

I do not remember how long we kept the turtle or how it left my life, the way of all my childhood pets probably: given away, taken to a shelter, or put outside when I was at school. I do know that the turtle, the dog, the parakeets, the guinea pig, and the fish made me feel safe. They eased the brutal loneliness I felt as a child. We moved when a better school appeared on my teacher mother’s radar. Change elementary. Change middle school. And, just when my new middle school friend went to one high school, shazam, I was enrolled at another high school.

Abusers know that they can control a foreign spouse by using power over pets. Do not do this and Fluffy gets taken back to the shelter. Do not do that and Mittens gets kicked. Again. The National Institutes of Health’s website notes that animal abuse is widely recognized as a risk factor of future abuse and a consequence of current abuse.

VAWA Survivor Statements

We help survivors prepare statements to submit to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service when they request a green card based on the Violence Against Women Act. It’s a summary of the relationship and harm the survivor endured.  Unless animal abuse was the only type of harm (and it never is), I do not include those details in the statement. A better attorney might mention how and when and with what frequency the family dog was whipped. I cannot even bear the details. When a client begins to tell me, I plead, “Don’t say more.”

Immigration officers are people. The one reading my survivor’s case may have lost a Fluffy or a Mittens. When they were four years old, the future immigration officer may have held a baby turtle, their first friend. If an immigration officer feels as I do, they should dream of a world where pets are somehow protected from the torture of domestic violence.

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

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