During the 1990s, Congress amended the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) to create forms of immigration relief for previously neglected vulnerable groups. One such group—survivors of domestic violence—was aided through the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), which amended the INA to allow abused spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to self-petition for family-based immigration benefits without the abuser’s knowledge. Both abused female and male spouses are able to receive immigration benefits under VAWA, as well as spouses in same-sex marriages.
Despite protections in immigration law for survivors of domestic violence, two other acts—the Professional Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (“PWORA”) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (“IIRIRA”)—which also passed in the 1990s fundamentally changed immigration policy and made it more difficult for members of these vulnerable groups to access public benefits.
This Article will focus on the “unintended consequences” that both of these Acts created by excluding vulnerable groups from access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”). By comparing public benefits access for categories of immigrants, such as survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, and those who obtained asylum protection, this Article will advocate for reforms at the federal, state, and local level to increase access to food security for vulnerable groups.