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U-visa cap reached under immigration law

Over the past year or so, this blog has discussed a variety of issues concerning deportation and removal proceedings in immigration court. The topic has arisen in the context of the administration's policy of prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases. The Secure Communities program has, at times, given local law enforcement agencies across the country pause as some local agencies said last year that the program could undermine police efforts to investigate alleged local crimes.

One of the concerns that was raised in some communities is the idea that domestic violence victims may be less inclined to report crime for fear of a future potential deportation proceeding.

For several years, U.S. immigration law has had a specialized visa, known as a U-visa, which immigrants who are the victims of domestic violence or abuse can apply for to allow them to stay in the country legally. The United States issues up to 10,000 U-visas each year. Officials now report that the U-visa cap has already been reached for the year.

Lawmakers in the nation's capitol are currently debating a program with similar concerns for undocumented immigrants. The measure is known as the Violence Against Women Act. The VAWA includes provisions directly intended to help immigrant women, but the law has other provisions that fall outside of immigration law. The law was originally enacted in the 90s, but is currently up for renewal.

Some opponents of both the VAWA and U-visas say that the programs may be subject to fraud. However, the government has other remedies for fraud, and the government has powers to allow for investigations of such allegations.

People who watch immigration issues, and advocates for immigrants, say that suspending U-visas or repealing the Violence Against Women Act could have deleterious effects on actual criminal investigations where a woman has been victimized.

Activists say that changing laws in these areas that are intended to protect women from violence could place victims of sexual violence in further jeopardy, as repeal of VAWA or suspension of U-visas could discourage victims who are also undocumented from speaking up against crime.

Some sources suggest that Congress is unlikely to increase the cap on U-visas this year, and whether VAWA will be extended is also up in the air.

Source: SPCR, "Cap reached for immigrant victims of domestic and sexual violence," Ruxandra Guidi, Sep. 10, 2012

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