There are a few provisions in the Senate’s immigration bill that will affect the work we do here at HRI. Some of them are specifically related to the U-Visa process. The U-Visa is a tool to protect immigrant victims of certain crimes who assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. With a U Visa, a cooperating immigrant victim or witness to a crime can live and work legally in the United States for 4 years, and can apply to be a legal permanent resident (green card) after three years. Currently there are only 10,000 U-Visas allotted each year in the United States, and that cap has been reached for the past few years. The new comprehensive bill, however, would increase this to 18,000.
The Senate bill, S.744, also adds a few missing elements of the kinds of crimes the U Visa will cover. It expands the definition to include stalking and workplace violations, such as abuse, exploitation, and the violation of whistleblower protections. It will also include human trafficking and slavery. It is estimated that between 14,000 and 17,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year; At any given time there are over 10,000 people here living under the conditions of slavery. Worldwide however, these numbers reach the millions.
HRI is currently representing 30 U-Visa cases. Last year, we represented 50 U Visa cases in our Women and Children’s Program. Normally, about 1/3 of our U Visa clients are children under 18 and a significant number of them are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. These clients have bravely assisted law enforcement in investigating the crime and prosecuting the criminals. Other clients are victims of assault, kidnapping and attempted murder. Though we do see room for even more improvement in the law, the U Visa expansions in the S.744 bill encourages us to continue working for victims of these crimes.