If you are a recipient of the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and have been served with a Protection From Abuse (FPA) Order in Pennsylvania, you are probably concerned about how the order may affect your status in the program–and your immigration status in the U.S.
DACA “Dreamers” have a fragile position in the U.S. On the one hand, the program temporarily protects you from deportation and authorizes you to work in the U.S. On the other hand, you must renew your status every year, and renewal is contingent upon you meeting the conditions of eligibility. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the right to terminate or revoke your DACA status at any time, at its discretion, putting you at risk of deportation. A PFA could well give the DHS reason to end your participation in DACA or refuse to renew your application.
Any DACA recipient who has been served with a PFA in Pennsylvania should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. You need a top advocate to build a strong defense against a PFA or domestic violence charge. Your future in the U.S. is at stake. Call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to get in touch with an experienced attorney right away for the best shot at defending your case.
This page will help you learn all about PFAs in Pennsylvania, how being served with a PFA can impact your DACA status and other aspects of your life, and the steps you can take to fight the allegations and get the FPA dropped.
What Is a Protection From Abuse Order?
A PFA order, also known as a “Restraining Order,” is a legal tool intended to protect people from domestic violence. To obtain this order, the accuser (called the plaintiff) must fill out a PFA petition at their local courthouse or, if the courthouse is closed, the police station. The petition will describe any current or past incidents of abuse. If the judge decides that the plaintiff needs immediate protection, they will issue a temporary PFA. Subsequently, a sheriff or police officer will serve the alleged abuser (a respondent) with the order.
If you have been served with a temporary PFA, read it carefully straightaway. The PFA will describe actions you must take or refrain from while the order is in place. For example, you will almost certainly be ordered to refrain from contacting the accuser, whether in person or electronically, directly or indirectly. You may also be instructed not to contact your children. The order is enforceable nationwide.
As painful as it may be, it is imperative that you fully comply with the order. You will have a chance to defend yourself against the PFA, but you must follow proper legal procedures. If you fail to comply with the order in any way, you could be fined, arrested, and face jail time. Naturally, these consequences could severely impact your DACA status.
What Might Be Included in a Pennsylvania PFA Order?
If you have a PFA filed against you, understand that it will wreak havoc on your life. The plaintiff may make several demands that you will have to adhere to until you have the opportunity to be heard by a court. Among other things, the PFA may order you to:
- Refrain from abusing the plaintiff and others in the household
- relinquish custody of your children and give temporary full custody to the accuser
- leave the family home, allowing only the accuser to live there
- pay child and spousal support
- cease all contact with the accuser and possibly the children
- refrain from entering the accuser's workplace or the children's school
- refrain from contacting or harassing the accuser's family members
- hand over your gun, firearm, and ammunition to the proper authorities, and refrain from buying others
The PFA will also provide essential information about the PFA court hearing, including:
- The hearing's date and time
- Your right to have an attorney
- Your right to present evidence
- Your right to bring witnesses
- How to present witnesses at the hearing
We cannot stress enough the seriousness of this situation. You must fully comply with all of these orders or face serious consequences, including criminal charges. If you have questions about the scope of the order, you should speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Moreover, if you do not obtain legal counsel quickly and put up a vigorous defense, the order may become permanent,and you may well lose your DACA status and become exposed to deportation proceedings.
What Should I Know About a PFA Hearing?
The PFA hearing is a vital opportunity for you to present your defense and contest the order. Under normal circumstances, you will be instructed to attend a hearing at the local courthouse within ten days after being served with the notice.
At the hearing, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. In other words, the accuser must prove that you abused them. Unlike criminal cases, where an offense must be proven “beyond all reasonable doubt,” in a PFA proceeding, the plaintiff must show by a “preponderance of the evidence” that abuse occurred. A preponderance of the evidence is a much lower standard of proof. The plaintiff only has to show that it is more than likely than not (over 50 percent probable) that you committed the abuse.
This lower standard of evidence is just one of the reasons why it's crucial that you gather all the evidence in your favor as quickly as possible. You will need an experienced lawyer who can help you discern the evidence that will best support your defense. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to start building your defense today.
What Happens if the Judge Rules Against Me in the PFA Hearing?
If the court rules against you, the terms of the temporary PFA will become permanent. This may mean that you probably won't be able to contact the accuser any further, may lose custody of your children, and may lose the right to live in the family home, among other things. After the ruling, the judge will issue a Final PFA Order (FPO). Pennsylvania state law requires the FPO to demand, at a minimum, that you:
- Refrain from abusing, harassing, or stalking the accuser
- Refrain attempting or threatening physical force against the plaintiff or your children
- Give up your guns, firearms, ammunition, and the accompanying licenses to the proper authorities
The FPO may also order you to pay for fees arising from the abuse, such as:
- Health insurance payments
- Mortgage/rent for the family home
- Medical or dental expenses
- Costs to repair or replace any property you damaged or removed
- Therapy, relocation, and moving expenses
- Payment for loss of earnings or support
- Legal fees (within reason)
The FPO will expire in three years, but the plaintiff will have the right to renew it. When the expiration period arises, you will be served with another notice and a fresh chance to defend yourself against the order. All the rights and procedures will remain the same.
As a DACA recipient, you're bound to face additional consequences if a permanent PFA is ordered against you. For example, you may not be able to wait out the three years to fight the order since you're required to renew your DACA status each year. DHS may consider the PFA reason enough to deny the renewal of your application, which would leave you vulnerable to deportation.
When a DACA recipient is served with the PFA, the stakes are sky-high. That's why you must contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as you're served with the PFA. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to have a fierce representative at your side, guiding you as you fight this accusation.
What Happens if I Violate the PFA in Pennsylvania?
It is critical that you obey the terms of your PFA order to the letter. If you violate this order, not only will your actions be used against you in the PFA hearing, but you could be arrested, fined up to $1,000, receive probation, or have to serve up to six months in jail. In addition, if the temporary PFA becomes permanent, it will become a part of the court record and may be accessible to anyone who asks the court for it. These consequences could be enough for the DHS to decide that you should no longer be eligible for DACA.
A PFA order is effective immediately. From the moment you receive it, you must follow those restrictions. You will not be able to call, text, FaceTime, or contact the accuser through social media, not even to ask them a question about the order or ask them to drop it. Depending on the order's terms, it may also mean that you cannot return home (if you were not at home when served) to collect your clothes and personal items. You will have to arrange for someone else to collect your belongings.
Make no assumptions about the restrictions. If you are unclear as to its terms or feel concerned that you might accidentally break one of them, contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. For example, if you work with the plaintiff, or run a high risk of running into them in a public place, or if the order doesn't extend to your children, you will need to talk to a lawyer to understand how to navigate the situation without risking an accusation of breaching the order. Call experienced Pennsylvania PFA lawyer Joseph D. Lento at (888) 535-3686 for a consultation today.
Why Might a PFA Order Affect My DACA Status?
As you may know, the DACA program is in a precarious position and remains controversial. Ever since President Obama created the program by Executive Order in 2012, many politicians have called for its end. In 2017, President Trump tried to terminate the program, but President Biden issued an Executive Order in January 2021 to “preserve and fortify it.” In July 2021, a Texas federal judge ruled the program illegal and halted the processing of new applications, although it allowed those already in the program to renew their applications.
DACA recipients are selected very carefully and must meet strict criteria. In addition to meeting technical requirements, such as having entered the U.S. prior to their 16thbirthday, DACA candidates must be of good moral character. To be accepted into the program, you must have never been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more non-significant misdemeanors. You also will not be accepted if the DHS perceives you to pose a threat to national security or public safety.
For your DACA status to be renewed, you must show that you continue to meet the character requirements. A permanent PFA order or violating the order might put your DACA status and renewal possibilities at significant risk. Violating a PFA order (whether temporary or permanent) is a criminal offense that will show up on your record in a DHS search. If you served 90 or more days in jail for the violation, the DHS would consider the violation a significant misdemeanor. It may also consider the violation a significant misdemeanor because a PFA order involves allegations of domestic abuse, which is taken very seriously. If the DHS categorizes the violation as a significant misdemeanor, for whatever reason, you will automatically be rendered ineligible for a DACA renewal.
Even if the DHS considers violation a non-significant misdemeanor, your position as a DACA recipient still may be at risk if you have a criminal record with at least two non-significant misdemeanors. Moreover, even if you don't have any criminal record, the violation of the order may give DHS enough reason to bar you from the program. DHS has nearly unlimited discretion to approve or deny a renewal application. They could even choose to deny the renewal based on the existence of the PFA order against you.
If someone has filed a PFA against you, the best way to minimize getting into further trouble, both with the court and with DHS, is to avoid violating the terms of the order and hire a skilled criminal defense lawyer to put up a vigorous defense as soon as possible. Fight the PFA and preserve your DACA status by contacting experienced Pennsylvania PFA lawyer Joseph D. Lento at (888) 535-3686 today.
Will a PFA Affect My Application for U.S. Citizenship?
If you're in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship, the PFA could affect your ability to become a naturalized citizen. To be eligible for U.S. citizenship, you must demonstrate that you are, and have been, of good moral character for the five years preceding your application. Certain serious moral character issues can prevent you from ever being eligible for citizenship, while other character issues could bar you for up to five years.
A PFA order might cast a shadow on your assertion that you have a good moral character. Even though a PFA is a civil law issue and will not appear on your criminal records, the order is likely to describe the accuser's allegations of abuse and portray you in a negative light. Immigration officials can find the order in the civil court system and interpret the allegations against you as a sign of a lack of moral character, thus endangering the success of your application.
Violating the PFA order places your citizenship application even more in jeopardy because it is a criminal offense. The police are obliged to arrest you if you violate the order. The arrest will appear on your criminal record, and if convicted, you could face up to 6 months in jail. USCIS officials will see the arrest or conviction when they run a criminal background check on you. The arrest would not only imperil your naturalization application, but it would put you at high risk of losing your DACA status and being deported.
Because PFA can have a devastating impact on your citizenship application–and the rest of your life–it's critical to contact an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to help you fight the order. Contact the knowledgeable and skilled Pennsylvania PFA lawyer Joseph D. Lento at (888) 535-3686 today.
How To Protect Yourself Against a False PFA if You Are a DACA Recipient?
Unfortunately, despite their good intentions, PFAs can be abused. Unscrupulous people sometimes file a false PFA to create problems for immigrants, particularly undocumented ones. Such people understand that the mere existence of a PFA casts an immigrant in a bad light, places their immigration status in jeopardy, and increases their risk of deportation.
But being a DACA recipient doesn't mean that you can't fight back against an unjust FPA claim. In fact, you should fight all the harder because you have so much to lose. Here are five steps you can take to fight:
Follow the terms of FPA strictly. As soon as you are served with the PFA, read the terms and begin following them immediately. If an accuser can take the unprincipled step of filing a false PFA against you, they will probably not hesitate to inform the police if you violate it, even by accident. If the accuser tries to contact you once the PFA is filed, ignore those phone calls, texts, or emails. If you can't reenter the house to collect your clothes or personal belongings, have a family member or friend do it. If they show up where you are, leave immediately. Never give them the opportunity to turn the civil matter into a criminal one. The only thing you should be focusing on is hiring experienced legal counsel to fight the FPA.
Start preparing your side of the story. After the temporary PFA is served, you have ten before the formal hearing. During this time, begin gathering evidence that can help show that the allegations against you are false or exaggerated. Save all text messages, emails, and telephone messages that may help fight the accuser's claims and turn them over to your attorney. Contact witnesses that may be willing to testify in your support. Write down the accuser's potential motivation in filing a false PFA: could it be related to a custody battle? Might they be trying to prevent the renewal of your DACA protections? Might they be aiming to get you deported? Collect any evidence that supports your theories and discuss it with your attorney.
Don't be fooled. The accuser may send you messages that they're dropping the PFA. But after a temporary PFA is issued, only a judge can rescind it. Do not accept any contact with the accuser until the court has officially dropped the PFA.
Make a good impression at the hearings. To contest the PFA, show up at both the preliminary hearing and final hearings. Always arrive on time, neatly dressed and well-groomed. If you fail to show up, it could lead to a court entering a permanent PFA order against you by default. Both you and the plaintiff will have the opportunity to testify and call witnesses at the final hearing. Always keep your emotions in check, including controlling defensive or angry body language. The judge will be scrutinizing you carefully.
Hire a Highly Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney. As a person receiving DACA protections, a PFA can seriously endanger the American life that you dream of maintaining. Don't give up or pretend that the situation will miraculously resolve itself. Be proactive and fight the PFA with the most experienced, knowledgeable, and competent Pennsylvania PFA defense lawyer you can find.
If served with a temporary PFA, contact Pennsylvania PFA attorney Joseph D. Lento immediately to represent you and help preserve your DACA status. Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm have one of the strongest records of PFA representation success in Pennsylvania. Contact them today at 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation.