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U-Visas help abused immigrants receive temporary legal status

Domestic violence is a tragic thing that affects many people in South Carolina and the rest of the country, regardless of immigration status. But for many undocumented immigrants, the fear of deportation prevents victims from reporting abuse to authorities.

To combat this problem, U-Visas were created to help undocumented immigrants earn temporary visas if they assist police in investigating abuse or assault crimes.

For example, one woman was granted a U-visa after she reported her husband to police for sexually assaulting two of her children, 8 and 10. Before the new program, she would have been fearful that, by reporting the crimes, she was opening herself and her children up to immigration proceedings, such as deportation or removal.

The program technically went into effect in 2008, but it has only recently gone into full force after a slow-moving start. Since 2008, 30,000 immigrants have applied for U-visas, and 25,600 have been granted.

Immigration officials allow a maximum of 10,000 to be granted every fiscal year. However, many supporters of the program say that 10,000 might not be enough. In fact, many advocates are pushing not only to increase the cap by 20,000 per year, but to branch the program out into different areas, like protecting victims from labor exploitation.

Supporters also question the purpose of the cap in the first place, claiming that such a cap simply stops eligible people from applying and possibly place them in danger.

The program also currently accepts applications from human trafficking victims, being capped at 5,000 every fiscal year. However, the program has never received 5,000 applications. In 2010, only 574 U-visas were requested for such victims.

While no more applications are being reviewed until the next fiscal year begins in October, applications continue to be sent in, as they will be put on hold until next month.

If you or someone you know is the victim of abuse or human trafficking, the U-Visa program is definitely something you want to look into. An immigration attorney might be able to help you first by explaining your rights and how the program works.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "U-visas gaining momentum," Paloma Esquivel, Sept. 26, 2011.

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