Adam Walsh Act!
What it might mean to you and immigration.
- By Ryan Barshop
Walsh is known for his anti-crime activism and his extreme hatred of criminals, with which he became involved following the murder of his son, Adam, in 1981.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (AWA) is a federal statute that was signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush on July 27, 2006 on the 25th anniversary of the abduction of Adam Walsh from a shopping mall in Broward County, Florida. Walsh, a six year old child at the time of the abduction was found decapitated 16 days after his abduction in 1981; his body was never found.
AWA Litigation in US Federal Court Is Evolving
Generally, a US citizen or permanent resident green card holder must file a petition to immigrate foreign family members to the United States. Such family members include spouses and children. However, the AWA prevents a family member from immigrating if that U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitioner has been convicted of a specified sexual offense against any minor child under 18. The AWA limitation also applies to fiancee petitions by US citizens.
Under the AWA, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must first determine that the US citizen or green card holder poses no risk of harm to the foreign family member before the petition to immigrate may proceed. Foreign family members cannot immigrate to the U.S. based on the family relationship if an application for a "no risk" determination pursuant to AWA is denied. Since 2011, the USCIS has denied the vast majority of applications to waive the AWA bar. Many petitioners who fall under AWA provisions are stuck.
According to the USCIS, a successful AWA waiver application requires that the U.S. citizen or resident petitioner show beyond a reasonable doubt he poses no risk of harm to the foreign family member. Often, a US citizen believes he has enough evidence to satisfy the USCIS because it seems obvious he is not a threat to his family member. However, USCIS has set the bar very high to the point that nearly all cases are denied. In its current state, the process seems unfair and unbalanced.
When USCIS receives an AWA Case, it will consider the following questions:
- Whether the classification of a particular conviction as a "specified offense against a minor" was to be done using a "categorical" analysis, in which only the elements of the state crime were analyzed, rather than the actual conduct of the United States citizen petitioner;
- Whether USCIS was correct in interpreting the "no risk" element of the AWA to mean that petitioners must provide evidence showing "beyond a reasonable doubt" (which is the standard used in criminal proceedings) that they weren't a threat to their own relatives, or whether the ordinary "preponderance of the evidence" standard should be used;
- Whether it was the government's job to prove the existence of a disqualifying petition, or if that job fell to the petitioner;
- Whether a petitioner could appeal certain legal aspects of a "no-risk" determination, or whether the BIA lacked jurisdiction even over these non-discretionary issues; and
- Whether the AWA would apply to an individual whose disqualifying offense happened before the new law took effect.
Obviously, you should seek advice from an Immigration Attorney as soon as you can before you begin the process. Urinating in public when you were 19 years old at a Rock Concert might be enough to cause you problems today from the AWA when petitioning for your spouse in the Philippines to join you in the USA.