February 25, 2020
Safe Horizon and ASISTA have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for immigration policy data on the adjudication of U-visa petitions and adjustment of status (permanent residence) applications for those granted U visa status.
U-visas were created by a bi-partisan congress in 2000 to protect immigrant victims of serious crimes who assist law enforcement in detecting, investigating and prosecuting crime. Beginning in 2018, Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project and ASISTA observed a shift in USCIS’s adjudication of U-visa petitions and U-visa permanent residence applications for applicants with prior contact with law enforcement. Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project and ASISTA observed an increase in USCIS requests and reliance on copies of applicants’ arrest records even where charges were never filed, charges were dismissed, and/or where the records were sealed. Prior to this time, USCIS generally accepted certified copies of a certificate of disposition.
USCIS has not issued any revised practice or policy information regarding this shift. As a result of the paucity of public information, many members of the public, including immigration lawyers, advocates for noncitizens, social workers, and law enforcement personnel, lack an understanding of the current practice and policy governing U-visa adjudications, the rationales that underlie it, and how to develop best practices for their work.
Safe Horizon and ASISTA requested records relating to USCIS’ policy on the adjudication of U-visa petitions and applications for adjustment of status based on an underlying U-visa from 2015 to present. Safe Horizon and ASISTA also requested USCIS policies from 2015 to present on the relevance of an applicant’s prior contact with law enforcement in the adjudication of U-visa petitions and applications of adjustment of status based on an underlying U-visa.
“This data is needed to provide a minimum level of transparency on USCIS’ practices as it relates to a critical form of immigration relief for survivors of violence and abuse,” said Evangeline M. Chan, Esq., Director of Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project.
Laura Flores Bachman, ASISTA Senior Legal Counsel said, “As leading advocates for immigrant survivors of violence, ASISTA has seen a significant shift in the way USCIS is adjudicating U visa petitions and U visa permanent residence applications. The documents we requested from USCIS will hopefully shed light on the way the agency has shifted its focus in these adjudications, creating more obstacles for immigrant survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking and other serious crimes.”
Attorneys from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP are representing Safe Horizon and ASISTA on a pro bono basis in this FOIA request.
Safe Horizon is a nonprofit organization established to provide assistance, advocacy, and support to victims of violence, including domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, and other crimes. Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project provides legal consultation and representation to low-income survivors of violence seeking immigration relief.
ASISTA is a nonprofit organization established to increase public understanding of immigration law and policy and advocate for the fair and just administration of federal immigration laws, particularly as they relate to immigrant survivors of violence. ASISTA consults with immigration lawyers, law students, accredited representatives, and other advocates to help directly protect the legal rights of noncitizens; advocates for policy on behalf of immigrant survivors of violence; publishes educational materials; and runs training programs that educate the public, legal practitioners, government officials, and law enforcement officers about immigration law, policy and practice.