Can victims of domestic violence and their children obtain legal status in the U.S.?

In my column this week in La Opinión I answer questions from readers. These are general answers. Each case is different, so you should consult an attorney for personalized legal advice.

Here is the question and answer for this week's column:

I am a 35 year old Mexican woman. I immigrated to the United States in 1999 with my young daughter to live with my ex-husband. Once here, he physically abused us and I divorced him in 2005. I have with me a copy of the divorce, a restraining order and a document signed by a judge stating that I have been a victim of domestic violence. Can I arrange the papers for myself and my daughter? B.

You and your daughter may be eligible for a U visa, which would allow you to stay in the country legally if you meet the proper requirements.

To be eligible, you must have been a victim of a qualifying crime that occurred in the U.S. or any of its territories. Domestic violence cases fall into this category, as do other violent crimes such as torture, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, rape, incest, and homicide, among others.

You must show that you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the criminal act and have cooperated with the authorities in the investigation or prosecution of your ex-spouse. There are other, slightly more complex factors, such as conditions of admissibility to the country, which are also evaluated in an application for this immigration benefit, so it is imperative to consult with a legal expert.

One of the benefits of the U visa is that certain family members of crime victims, including unmarried children under the age of 21, are also eligible for a U visa derived from the petitioner. Therefore, your minor daughter may be eligible for a U visa through you.

The U visa is temporary. It is granted for four years. At the end of that period, victims who obtained a U visa may file an application for adjustment of status. They must prove that they have lived in the U.S. continuously for at least three years since they received the U visa. In addition, they must again demonstrate that they cooperated with authorities in the investigation or prosecution of their abusers. They must be admissible to the U.S. and demonstrate that they are in the country for humanitarian reasons to ensure family unity or in the public interest.