The U Visa: An Effective Resource for Law Enforcement

By Ivie, Stacey; Nanasi, Natalie | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 2009 | Go to article overview

The U Visa: An Effective Resource for Law Enforcement


Ivie, Stacey, Nanasi, Natalie, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Law enforcement personnel strive for strong connections with all citizens. In pursuit of this goal, striking an appropriate balance--one that punishes wrongdoers while protecting victims--can present a challenge. One way that officers not only can foster better relationships with immigrant communities but also increase offender accountability, promote public safety, and help ensure that crimes translate into convictions is to promote awareness of the U visa, which provides important immigration benefits to cooperating crime victims.

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The authors believe that the fear of deportation has created a class of silent victims and undermined officers' attempts at community-oriented policing among immigrant populations. They opine that the U visa helps improve relations with these communities, increase the reporting of criminal activity, enable provision of services to victims, and enhance the prosecution of violent perpetrators. Also, the authors feel that officers may have misconceptions about the U visa and not recognize its effectiveness as a tool. They hope that this article will help clarify the intent, purpose, and benefits of the U visa to the law enforcement community.

DESCRIPTION OF THE U VISA

Congress created the U visa--available to immigrant victims of a wide range of serious crimes--as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, recognizing that many of these individuals, with temporary or no legal status, fear that assisting law enforcement could lead to deportation. (1) By providing noncitizen victims a means of stabilizing their legal status, the U visa encourages them to report the crimes. It helps to curtail criminal activity, protect the innocent, and encourage victims to "fully participate in proceedings that will aid in bringing perpetrators to justice." (2) The U visa also can promote contact with law enforcement officers within isolated communities, which provides valuable assistance to individuals at heightened risk of victimization.

The U visa provides an avenue to legal status for immigrant crime victims who 1) have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of victimization; 2) possess information regarding the activity; and 3) offer a source of help in the investigation or prosecution. (3) The incident in question must have violated U.S. law or occurred within the nation's borders (including Indian country and military installations) or one of its territories or possessions.

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The qualifying criminal activities covered by the U visa include a long list of serious offenses or the attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of them. Unlike other protections available to battered immigrants (such as those provided under the Violence Against Women Act), eligibility for a U visa does not depend on a marriage between the victim and abuser or the legal status of the perpetrator. (4)

To obtain a U visa, victims must demonstrate to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) their willingness to cooperate in a qualifying investigation or prosecution by law enforcement entities, such as federal, state, or local police agencies; prosecutors; judges; or any other appropriate authority. This definition includes organizations with criminal investigative jurisdiction in their respective areas of expertise (e.g., Child Protective Services, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Labor). (5)

BENEFITS FOR VICTIMS

Approved U-visa petitioners receive temporary legal status and work authorization, which allows these victims to support themselves and rebuild their lives in safety while assisting law enforcement. (6) After 3 years, they may gain eligibility for lawful permanent resident status (i.e., a Green Card). Such benefits make the U visa an effective tool for bringing victims, particularly those of domestic violence who may depend on the perpetrator for legal status or economic support, out of the shadows.

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