THE VAWA CONFIDENTIALITY PROVISIONS


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The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal law in the United States that helps protect women who have been victims of gender-based crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking. VAWA is especially important for immigrant survivors because this law contains several provisions that ensure the political protection and welfare of victims.


VAWA's confidentiality provisions were designed to allow victims to present their immigration case safely and confidentially on the basis of crime victimization without the perpetrators' knowledge, consent, or ability to obtain information about the case. Two particular court cases that reinforced survivors' confidentiality rights are Hawke v. United States Department of Homeland Security and Demaj v. Sakaj.


Hawke v. The United States Department of Homeland Security established that information protected under VAWA federal confidentiality could not be disclosed by the federal government to civil or criminal attorneys seeking such information. These protections apply to all types of immigration cases covered by VAWA confidentiality and continue to apply unless the immigration case is denied on its merits. In the event that it is denied, VAWA's confidentiality protections still apply until all final appeal rights are exhausted.


Demaj v. Sakaj established that documents protected by VAWA confidentiality cannot be disclosed even if the person seeking such documents does not intend to re-adjudicate the defendant's immigration case. The court also held that VAWA's promised confidentiality protections are absolute.


Hawke v. United States Department of Homeland Security and Demaj v. Sakaj are important cases for immigrant survivors for two reasons. Federal courts upheld VAWA confidentiality protections and denied requests for discovery or disclosure of VAWA confidentiality protected information in state court proceedings. The courts also held that VAWA's confidentiality is more important than claims made by perpetrators, a decision that prioritizes the rights of immigrant survivors.


Perpetrators of gender-based crimes frequently try to use the immigration system to exercise their power and control over their victims. In many cases, this results in interference with the victims' ability to obtain legal immigration status. Because of this, VAWA confidentiality laws ensure that perpetrators do not have access to information on victims and their immigration status. The following individuals are protected by VAWA confidentiality provisions:

  • VAWA self-petitioners.

  • U visa: victims of criminal activities included in the U visa.

  • T visa and continuous presence: victims of serious forms of human trafficking.

  • Applications for work authorization by the abused spouse, holders of work visas.



Each year, Mil Mujeres helps many families with their VAWA application and advocate for the legal rights of immigrants. For more information on how we can help you in the VAWA application process, visit the “Contact” section on our site, call us at (202) 808 3311 or write to us at info@milmujeres.org.