By Jayde Morgan, J.D. Class of 2023
It is no surprise that many aspects of the United States’ immigration system are ineffective. However, after being assigned my first case in Immigration Clinic, one particular concern has been the cap on the amount of U Visas that may be granted per year. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that, “[t]he limit on the number of U visas that may be granted to principal petitioners each year is 10,000.” According to an April 2020 U Visa Report by USCIS, there were 142,000 pending principal U Visa petitions in 2019, yet the annual statutory cap on the on the number of petitions that USCIS can grant has remained the same since at least 2008. By failing to increase the cap, the U.S. government has created an inexcusable back-log of people who qualify for U Nonimmigrant Status but are not given that status in a reasonable period of time due to the 10,000 per year cap.
According to the National Immigrant Law Center, the purpose of U Visas is to incentivize non-citizens who are victims of certain crimes to report them to law enforcement. In order to qualify for a U Visa, the victim of the crime has to have been, is being, or is likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. U Visa applications require a member of law enforcement, such as a police officer, prosecutor, or judge, to complete and sign a Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification. This system benefits law enforcement agencies because they are able to gain more information and theoretically solve more crimes. However, the system also can create a dilemma for undocumented individuals regarding whether it is worth it to report because the certification is signed after the victim of the crime provides assistance to law enforcement and officers have discretion for determining whether a victim’s help is sufficient.
An article from The Hill from 2018 makes the claim that “Eliminating the U Visa cap will help catch criminals.” By creating the U Nonimmigrant Status, Congress, USCIS, and law enforcement officers are asking undocumented immigrants to potentially risk their own deportation to help assist law enforcement in doing their job. The article further states that upon hearing the wait time for a U Visa, which at the time could be as high as eleven years, they may be reluctant to come forward to report a crime. Unlike other statuses, U Visas do not require the perpetrator of the crime to be a United States citizen, but they can be. The article argues that, if the government truly wants to catch and prosecute violent criminals, they should increase the cap on the number of U Visas that can be granted each year, in order to shorten the wait time from reporting to securing a U visa. In other words, increasing the number of U Visas that are granted each year could ultimately make people safer, because an increase will eliminate a disincentive to reporting crimes.
While aiding law enforcement in catching violent criminals is an important part of why the U Visa cap should be increased, there is also a humanitarian aspect to consider. Congress, in creating the U visa, has acknowledged that law enforcement officers are unable to successfully prosecute the perpetrators of certain violent crimes without the help of undocumented immigrants. As is the case in many other areas of the United States, undocumented immigrants provide essential and undervalued work. In the case of U Visas, the government has the opportunity to repay that work by simply granting U Nonimmigrant Status to allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States without fear of deportation for four years.
In order to apply for a U Visa, one must be the victim of a qualifying crime which include, among others, Domestic Violence, Slave Trade, Torture, and Female Genital Mutilation. Law enforcement surely has an interest in prosecuting perpetrators of those crimes. However, there is also a larger concern of whether reporting that you are the victim of a crime of that nature should leave you vulnerable to deportation. Granting a U Visa eliminates that concern. How long should an undocumented individual who is the victim of a crime like Domestic Violence, Slave Trade, Torture, and Female Genital Mutilation be required to wait for that assurance? Increasing or eliminating the cap for the number of U Visas would drastically reduce the wait time.
The U Visa eliminates the fear of deportation for about four years and provides the opportunity to apply for a work permit and social security card in the interest of remaining in the United States legally. These limited benefits are only available after one is the victim of a horrific crime and provides aid to law enforcement. Forcing them to remain vulnerable to deportation until USCIS eventually gets to their application after several years is intolerable. The vast majority of those waiting for their U Visa to be granted easily meet the requirements for U Nonimmigrant Status. Generally, the only bar to approval is the cap. For this reason, it is clear that the best solution is to raise the yearly cap for granting of U Visas.