Arguijo v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, No. 20-1471 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff's mother married a U.S. citizen in 1999 and divorced him in 2004 because of his violent behavior. Plaintiff had run away the year before, when she was 15, to escape the abuse. At issue is whether, after the divorce, plaintiff remained a "child" of her mother's ex-husband. Plaintiff's mother died shortly after the divorce and could not file a petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on plaintiff's behalf. Plaintiff had to petition on her own behalf, and the agency rejected her application because a self-petition may be filed only by someone who "is the child" of an abusive U.S. citizen. Because, in the agency's view, plaintiff lost stepchild status in 2004, and only a person who "is" a child of an abusive parent may seek relief, the agency denied her application. However, the agency and the district court, relying on Matter of Mowrer, 17 I&N Dec. 613, 615 (1981), both concluded that even after divorce, a person remains a stepchild as long as "a family relationship has continued to exist as a matter of fact between the stepparent and stepchild."
The Seventh Circuit held that, in the context of VAWA, "stepchild" status survives divorce. The court explained that someone who is a stepchild during a marriage remains one after divorce, when termination of "stepchild" status would defeat application of the substantive rule that abused stepchildren are entitled to an immigration benefit. The court clarified that Mowrer does not interpret VAWA. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded.