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'U visas' and 'T visas' help immigrants who have been victimized

During the national debate regarding immigration reform and discussions concerning the controversy surrounding the Secure Communities program, a special visa continues to be in high demand. U.S. immigration law allows victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes to seek a visa, known as a U visa.

The public discussion surrounding the Secure Communities and many state laws controlling immigration issues includes concerns of many local law enforcement agencies that believe the drastic measures impede law enforcement's ability to serve the public in domestic and violent criminal investigations.

Many immigration advocates say that many victims of such serious crimes are often afraid to come forward to authorities to report crimes due to the fear of being turned over to immigration officials for potential deportation.

Thousands of visas are allocated each year through the U visa program, which is intended to protect victims of violent crimes. Officials say that the visa cap under the U visa program has been met in each of the past two year.

It is important to note that the U visa program is not the only visa designated to benefit immigrants who have been victimized. U.S. immigration law sets aside 5,000 visas for victims of human trafficking crimes. The human trafficking visas are known as T visas, and after four years, a T visa holder can apply to convert the T visa into a green card.

While the U visa cap has been reached in recent years, the same is not true for T visas. Officials report that only 967 human trafficking victims applied for a T visa last year, while immigration officials approved 557 visas, along with an additional 722 visas for family members.

An East Coast USCIS District Director says that international rings prey on immigrants in human trafficking operations, and often threaten and intimidate immigrants after bringing them into the country. She says, "Not only do they victimize this person, the penalty for stepping out is putting your family back in your home country or in the U.S. at serious risk and those things are big deterrents."

Immigrant victims of human trafficking crimes must cooperate in an investigation of the trafficking crime under the T visa program. Exceptions to that rule may be available for victims who have been too traumatized by the crime to cooperate in the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime. Minors, or immigrants under the age of 18, may also receive an exception from the requirement to cooperate in a human trafficking investigation to qualify for a T visa.

Source: WYNC, "Thousands of Visas for Victims of Trafficking Go Unused," Cindy Rodriguez, March 20, 2012

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