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Immigration Relief for Crime Victims: The U Non-Immigrant Visa – by Suzanne Tomatore

Jenny, a forty-year-old mother of two, recently had some wonderful news: her employment authorization card was approved by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service. This card will allow her to apply for a Social Security number and will open many doors for Jenny and her family. Having immigration status also will give her the security and peace of mind that she belongs here in the country where she has lived for most of her life.

Jenny (name changed to protect her identity) was brought to the U.S. from the Caribbean as a toddler. She spent her childhood growing up in a very abusive home. Her mother beat her and her step-father sexually abused her. Jenny has a large scar on one of her hands where her mother burned her with scalding hot water as a punishment. Needless to say, Jenny’s parents neglected to file her immigration paperwork. Jenny was eventually removed from her mother’s home and placed into foster care and group homes. After aging out of the foster care system, Jenny became homeless. Estranged from her family in the U.S., she reached out to her father’s family in the Carribean for assistance. They helped her get a copy of her birth certificate and introduced her to other relatives living in the New York area. Through those family contacts she found a job and an apartment but she still had no secure immigration status. The years passed and Jenny became a mother of two children. The father of her youngest child was abusive and subjected her to domestic violence. While fleeing that relationship, Jenny sought assistance from a community based organization in Queens where she received a referral to the City Bar Justice Center for immigration assistance. The Justice Center did a full and comprehensive legal screening for Jenny, found her eligible for U non-immigrant status based upon the abuse that she suffered as a child, and applied for that relief on her behalf.

The Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project focuses on working with clients like Jenny: survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, or hate crimes. We train and mentor pro bono attorneys at law firms and corporate legal departments, and partner with them to create a road map for achieving the best possible legal outcome for hundreds of clients like Jenny.

Immigrant survivors of violent crimes may be eligible for special immigration relief under U non-immigrant status. There are now nearly thirty crimes listed in the statute that may allow a crime victim to file for this special relief. This relief allows crime victims, who cooperate with law enforcement, a path to permanent residence (green card). However, there are only 10,000 slots available each year. For the past few years, the slots were filled up near the very end of the fiscal year. In 2014, all of these slots were filled in the first two months of the year. This leaves thousands of applicants on a wait list and, without a change in the law that would lift this number or abolish the cap altogether, it is unclear how long they will have to wait.

Jenny is sitting on this wait list for full U-non-immigrant status. Survivors like Jenny are strong, resilient, and they have cooperated with law enforcement to make our communities safer for everyone.  To break the cycle of poverty, her children deserve a mother with the full U-1 status and all of the benefits that come with it.

Suzanne Tomatore is the director of the Immigrant Women & Children Project at the City Bar Justice Center.

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