Kali Cohn Advocacy, News & Updates

Press Release: HRI and SMU Law’s Hunter Center Release New Report Detailing the Immigration System’s Revictimization of Undocumented Survivors of Crimes

“Flawed Design” demonstrates that the U visa process is fundamentally flawed and requires Congressional and agency action 

DALLAS – Undocumented survivors of crime face significant barriers and re-victimization by United States’ broken immigration system, which forces them to wait nearly a decade for the U visas they are eligible for. Today, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI), the Dallas-area non-profit human rights organization, and SMU Dedman School of Law’s Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crime Against Women (the Hunter Center) released “Flawed Design: How the U visa Is Revictimizing the People it Was Created to Help,” a report detailing problems with both the structure and implementation of the U visa and damaging impacts on survivors in areas ranging from employment to housing, medical care, and mental health. 

“This Report is the first to detail the myriad and grave challenges survivors face as a result of the government’s needless delay in issuing U visas to victims of crime,” said Natalie Nanasi, an Assistant Professor and Director of the Hunter Center at SMU. “These delays have real consequences for survivors. The ability to find safe housing, a stable job, and to access medical care—which are critical to rebuilding a life after crisis—are all imperiled.” 

Among its key findings,Flawed Designdetails that: 

  • The 10,000 annual cap on U visas forces people filing a petition today to wait nearly a decade before their visa is issued. 
  • The lengthy wait for U visas causes survivors to experience job and housing insecurity, medical and mental health struggles, and separation from family members and loved ones. 
  • Because the law requires that survivors engage with our criminal justice system, many survivors of crime–particularly Black and LGBTQIA survivors–may never be able to access the U visa safely because interacting with law enforcement is not safe for them. 
  • Urgent action is necessary from Congress to eliminate the 10,000 annual cap on U visas and its mandated interactions with law enforcement. 
  • In the meantime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that reviews U visa petitions, has the power to ease some of the challenges of the backlog created by the U visa cap. 

“Undocumented survivors navigating the current U visa system are incredibly strong, patient, and brave,” said Kali Cohn, HRI’s Community Education & Advocacy Director. “But this system is asking far too much. Our lawmakers and policymakers must ensure that the U visa is not a false hope for the survivors who need it.” 

To uncover the realities of living and working in the shadow of the backlog, the report relied on long-form, semi-structured interviews with six U visa petitioners and holders, who represented 12 total U visa applicants, collected stories from 16 immigration practitioners from 9 states, and surveyed 143 immigration practitioners nationwide. The perspectives collected came from people in various stages of the U visa process, but their remarks and reflections shared a common and thunderous echo: the wait-time is long, it is arduous, and it is unnecessary.  

The report is available online at https://arcg.is/jCvir0. HRI and the Hunter Clinic are encouraging advocates to take action by signing a petition asking Congress to take action on the recommendations made in the report.  

About Human Rights Initiative of North Texas 

Founded by social worker Serena Simmons Connelly and lawyer Elizabeth Healy 20 years ago, the Dallas-based Human Rights Initiative of North Texas has grown into an award-winning agency helping immigrant survivors of human rights abuses from all over the world. HRI’s courageous and resilient clients are eligible to apply for legal status under the humanitarian provisions of United States immigration laws and policies: they are asylum seekers fleeing persecution; children who have been abandoned, abused and neglected; and victims of family violence and violent crimes. HRI’s Legal team partners with a network of over 250 pro bono attorneys from top DFW firms and corporations to help clients access the U.S. immigration system, and its Social Services team offers transitional support and referrals to help address trauma and ease the hardships of profound displacement. At HRI, all services are free and designed to help forge a path to safety, stability and opportunity. For more information, visitwww.hrionline.org

About Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crime Against Women 

The Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women gives law students at the SMU Dedman School of Law the opportunity to provide legal representation to survivors of gender-based harms, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Partnering with established community organizations, the Hunter Center serves women who are most critically in need of legal assistance and engages in education and advocacy projects that seek long-term solutions to the problem of violence against women. 

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