The “U” Visa: Another Way Illegal Aliens Can Avoid Deportation

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

September 8, 2010
CAPS Senior Writing FellowIn July, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department sued Arizona to set aside S.B. 1070, a state law that would allow authorities under certain circumstances to ask immigrants to prove they are legal U.S. residents. According to the Obama administration, S.B. 1070 is discriminatory and usurps the federal government’s power to determine immigration policy. The suit publicly confirmed what many have known all along: that if the administration cannot get comprehensive immigration reform passed in Congress, it will take other, less visible measures to help illegal aliens remain in the United States. One of the most effective under the radar tools to protect illegal immigrants is the little known “U” visa that allows aliens to stay and work in the United States for up to four years. After that, they can adjust their status to become legal permanent residents. Applicants for the “U” visa are required to prove that they have been either mentally or physically abused and must cooperate with law enforcement to prosecute the criminals. The “U” visa’s rationale is that without inducement, illegal immigrants will not come forward to report crimes because of fear of deportation. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services justifies the “U” visa as a crime fighting tool. In 2000, the Victims of Violence and Trafficking Act created the U-Visa.  The law is designed to remove certain immigration laws, eg., deportation, as barriers that might otherwise keep immigrant women or children trapped in abusive relationships. Besides fear of deportation, immigrant women also anticipated physical retaliation from their husbands if they called the police. The concern about the “U” visa is whether the applicant is honestly reporting her claim or fabricating it. Given the high stakes of staying in the United States versus the risk of deportation, the government should investigate every application in depth. Too frequently, it doesn’t. Take, as an example, the current case of Blanca Catt, a Portland teenager smuggled into the U.S. illegally from Mexico by her parents. Ten years ago, Catt was taken from her parents and placed in foster care. Now 19 and adopted, ICE recently advised Catt that she will get a “U” visa next year based solely on the fact that Blanca was allegedly "abused" more than a decade ago. But Catt’s parents/abusers were never detained or prosecuted. And Catt has never testified or helped police in prosecuting her parents. Despite failing to meet the basic requirement for a “U” visa, Catt has already been rewarded. Her place on the visa waiting list allows Catt to remain in the U.S. for a minimum of four years. But as the old saying goes, nothing is more permanent than a temporary visa. The numbers of “U” visa requests will increase as its availability becomes more well known. The cap, currently set at 10,000, will increase according to demand. Meanwhile, pending cases are piling up. From October to May 2010 a total of 11,153 “U” Visa applications await adjudication. Another inducement for fraud is that spouses and children can also be granted “U” visas but their totals are categorized separately and don’t count against the cap. An entire family can become permanent residents on only one type of visa. In the first 9-1/2 months of fiscal 2010, 7,874 “U” visas were granted to the victims’ family members. In 2009, 5,825 visas were approved for victims and 2,838 for family. As with the other dozens of non-immigrant visas, the problem is not necessarily their original intention. No one, for example, wants to deny fair treatment to a teenager like Catt who apparently was a child abuse victim. The concern is the lax visa guidelines that allow for unchecked fraud that eventually results in illegal immigrants circumventing the law to eventually become permanent residents.
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