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The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and pro bono partners at McDermott, Will and Emery filed a complaint in the United States District Court arguing that the government improperly requires abused stepchildren to remain in relationship with their abusive stepparents in order to receive protection under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The complaint arose from denial of a VAWA self-petition filed by an NIJC client, Jennifer Arguijo, who was abused by her stepfather.   Since Ms. Arguijo’s mother is deceased, the government denied Ms. Arguiljo’s VAWA petition because it found that under the BIA decision in Matter of Mowrer, a family relationship between the stepparent and stepchild must continue to exist after legal separation or where a marriage has been terminated by divorce or death.  Since Ms. Arguijo severed ties with her abusive stepfather, she was found ineligible for VAWA protection.

NIJC and pro bono counsel are arguing that Ms. Arguijo is eligible for VAWA because she meets the definition of a stepchild as defined by INA § 101(b)(1)(B).  Ms. Arguijo’s relationship with her abusive stepparent was created before her 18th birthday, as the statute requires. VAWA does not require a continuing parental relationship between an abused stepchild of a U.S. citizen and her abuser, pursuant to 8 C.F.R. § 204.2(e)(1)(ii) and reading the statute to mandate ongoing contact between abusers is terrible public policy and violates congressional intent.

Ms. Arguijo’s complaint was filed on August 13, 2013. Ms. Arguijo is represented by Lisa Koop and Charles Roth of NIJC, and Jocelyn Francoeur and Erin Arnold of McDermott, Will and Emery.