Undocumented Victims of Serious Crimes Can Obtain U-Visas, Deportation Stays

While immigration remains a controversial issue in American politics, the victimization of immigrants remains a major concern for law enforcement. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) was established to help immigrant victims of serious crime. Reauthorized in 2003, 2005, and 2008 as the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), this innovative law offers law enforcement more authority and provides immigrant crime victims protections and benefits through the U-Visa process.

Under the U-Visa law, Congress allocates 10,000 U-Visas to be issued each year. Under this special non-immigrant status process, U-Visas are granted to victims of sexual, exploitative, and violent crimes, including rape, domestic violence, incest, sexual assault, and torture. As a requisite eligibility requirement, crime victims have to assist law enforcement or other government officials in the investigation or prosecution of their perpetrators.

The U-Visa Process

The U-Visa process begins with the filing of a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and completion of the U-Visa certification. The U-Visa certification must prove that the applicant is genuinely a victim of a specified crime and suffered significant mental or physical abuse.

As part of the process, the USCIS offers “interim relief” to those who meet eligibility requirements for the U-Visa, but who have not yet filed the petition. Under this relief program, immigrants are placed in a “deferred action” status. This status offers select short-term benefits, such as protection from deportation or removal proceedings. Interim relief status also allows for work permits. However, interim relief status does not allow travel outside of the country and does not guarantee re-entry.

More U-Visas are being issued, and at a more rapid pace, than ever before. All 10,000 visas allowed by law were issued for the 2011 fiscal year, which ended in September. The 2012 fiscal year began in October, so those who may be eligible for a U-Visa should immediately contact a qualified immigration attorney to begin the process.

Undocumented victims of serious crime face an extraordinarily difficult plight. Obtaining a U-Visa allows victims to get out of potentially deadly circumstances and helps keep communities safe by aiding in the prosecution of violent and serious criminals.