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Fears Keep Immigrants from Reporting Crimes — Including Domestic Violence

A special visa program lets undocumented immigrants remain in country if they cooperate with investigators or prosecutors

maria immigrant
Credit: Beth Fertig / WNYC
'Maria' obtained a U visa, giving her legal status, after she was beaten by her boyfriend and went to family court. She's now a college student.

Undocumented immigrants are often the victims of crimes because without legal status they’re afraid of going to law enforcement and being deported. This is why Congress created the U Visa about two decades ago. The program makes it possible for undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States and hold a job if they can prove they were helpful to investigators or prosecutors.

The U visa was part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. The enormously popular program had 87,000 applications pending nationally last fall, but the government only awards 10,000 U visas each year. Applicants now wait years for approval, and a few thousand each year are denied. Now that Pres. Donald Trump is strengthening border protections and limiting travel, attorneys who deal with victims of domestic violence worry their clients will be too afraid to apply for U visas. They also describe tremendous anxiety among those who have already applied and are waiting for final approval.

“They’re worried that somebody’s going to come to their door and pick them up and move them from the United States and separate them from their children who, many times are U.S. citizens,” said Susanna Saul, managing attorney of Her Justice, a nonprofit legal service organization for low income women. “It’s hard to give any assurance now.” 

Read the full story on WNYC News, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.

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