By Evangeline Chan Amy Cheung
April 26, 2021
Since the #MeToo movement started over a decade ago, it has become more than about giving a voice to survivors of sexual assault and violence; it has been about change—providing more protections for survivors and taking down the systems that oppress them. And not just for women, but for men and LGBTQ+ individuals as well. What we have learned is that the abuse of power and complicity with that abuse exists across many industries and institutions and that low-income people of color are particularly vulnerable. This is especially true in the context of immigration.
Undocumented individuals who suffer from sexual assault, domestic violence and exploitation in the work force face unique challenges due to the added vulnerability created by their immigration status in the United States. They are often fearful of reporting abuse or exploitation to law enforcement because they fear that they will be deported and separated from their families. This effectively provides abusers with a tool to silence their victims.
That is why Congress created the bipartisan U-visa program in 2000. Its purpose was to encourage immigrants to come forward and report crimes to law enforcement and to afford protection for those willing to cooperate. Congress intended for the program to protect victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and other serious crimes. Those granted a “U-visa” are later eligible for lawful permanent residence (a.k.a. a “green card”) and citizenship.
Since its creation, processing times of U-visa applications have skyrocketed, creating a backlog of over 160,000 cases and wait times of almost five years. For years, advocates have been sounding the alarm that these delays undermine the efficacy and purpose of the U-visa program. Rather than create solutions to address this crisis, these backlogs continue to grow and DHS has erected additional barriers to securing relief.
At Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project, we have been representing survivors in U-visa petitions since the U-visa became available in 2008. U-visa and related applications form the majority of our caseload and we have successfully assisted hundreds of survivors in obtaining U-visa protections for themselves and their families.