Domestic Violence Awareness Month
To highlight October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, our last e-Newsletter described self-petitioning under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA helps those abused by a spouse or parent, but only if this relative is a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident. Our topic this week, the little-known U visa, offers hope to domestic violence survivors who are not legally married to the abuser or whose abuser lacks legal status, and can also benefit immigrant victims of certain other crimes.
Undocumented immigrants often fear that if they report crimes to the police or go to criminal court as witnesses, they will end up being turned over for deportation. Congress created the U visa specifically to encourage crime victims to come forward and help law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes.
To qualify for a U visa, the victim must:
- have been the victim of a crime of domestic violence, any felony assault, or a host of other crimes (see complete list below);
- have information about the crime;
- "be helpful" to law enforcement authorities in investigating the crime, or prosecuting it in court;
- have suffered "substantial harm" as a result of the crime - physical, mental, or both. Harm may be "substantial" even when the domestic violence incident has not caused a serious physical injury, but follows a pattern of abuse by a domestic partner, spouse, or other close relative.
No matter who actually calls the police, the victim may "be helpful" by going to the station, or by talking with officers who respond to a 911 call. If the offender is arrested, victims should participate fully in the court process, since to seek permanent legal status later on, they must cooperate with any "reasonable" request of law enforcement. For this reason, if they fear going to court because the offender or others threaten to retaliate, they should inform the state's attorney immediately. A special "certification" of helpfulness, completed and signed by a designated law enforcement official, is an essential part of the U visa application.
U visas, like VAWA petitions, are decided by mail by a special unit of USCIS that is trained in the dynamics of domestic violence, and the special provisions of U visa law.
Crimes that may qualify the victim for a U visa are:
- domestic violence, or any felony assault
- rape, sexual assault, incest, abusive sexual contact, or female genital mutilation
- murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder or manslaughter
- torture, kidnapping, abduction, being held hostage, false imprisonment, or unlawful criminal restraint
- forced prostitution, sexual exploitation, trafficking, involuntary servitude, slave trade, or peonage
- extortion, blackmail, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, or perjury
For legal assistance with VAWA petitions or U visas, or for opportunities to partner with Latinos Progresando in raising public awareness of these powerful tools, please call us at (312) 850-0572
Carol A. Waldman
1624 W. 18th Street
Chicago IL, 60608. 7 312-850-0576