U-Visa Photo Courtesy of Seattle Weekly

In 2002, the US Congress passed the VTVPA (Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act). This act created a special class of visas, known as U Visas, for victims of crimes who have suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of US Citizens.

Implemented in September of 2007, the U Visa grants temporary immigration benefits to certain victims of crimes who assist government officials in investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity. The goal of the U Visa Program was two fold - to bolster law enforcement capabilities and give these victims of crimes the benefit of temporary protection.  The children of the victims can also qualify.

Although the U Visa initially failed to gain momentum, the Los Angeles Times noted that because of outreach efforts from USCIS, the applications for U Visas have seen a dramatic increase. Because of the success from USCIS officials in promoting the U Visa, as of last Friday, all 10,000 available U visas for this past fiscal year have been issued. This is the second year in a row where this has happened. In spite of the cap of 10,000 U Visas being reached, many Immigration Attorneys have not worried about the problem as pending U Visa applications after the gap have been filled are put on hold for next year. Furthermore, private attorneys don't do that many since these are pro bono clients for the most part

 However, this only serves as a temporary band-aid to the problem of the limited U Visa cap. Although the application may be adjudicated in the next fiscal year, this fails to provide the necessary relief for those applying for U Visas. After going through the extreme hardship that they suffered, victims of U Visas are now forced to wait until another fiscal year in order to have their applications adjudicated. Rather than using the benefits granted by their new visa to improve their lives in this country, U Visa holders must wait for another fiscal year for their applications to be adjudicated. It takes bravery and strength for those in deportation proceedings to come forward to speak about their physical abuse. The least USCIS can do is make sure that those who apply for these visas have ample access to them.

Although there is a bill in Congress sponsored by Robert Mendez and George Miller to increase the number of U-Visas available, there has been little action on this measure. Congress however must take action or the purpose of the U-Visa program will be undermined. The Morton memo should also be used for those at risk of removal as it provides relief for these cases.

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