Immigrants in the country illegally who are crime victims can apply for U Visas that grant immigration status. But in some communities, the application process is slow and needs reform. A bill to fix that died in the state Senate.
SYLVIA is a mother, an immigrant without documents and a survivor of violent abuse at the hands of her former partner. For almost a decade, he kept her in the house, monitored her cellphone and drove away her friends. Every time Sylvia tried to stand up for herself, her partner threatened to have her deported and tear her away from their children.
It was only when her partner threatened to harm their children that Sylvia overcame the fear of deportation and dared to reach out for help — she called the police from inside her car, her children screaming in the back seat, while her partner slashed her tires to prevent her escape and threatened to kill all of them.
Sylvia expected that she would be deported, but instead she received help — she found out she was eligible for a U Visa. U Visas grant temporary legal status to victims of serious crimes, including domestic violence, who assist in the investigation or prosecution of perpetrators.
U Visa applications require that a law-enforcement agency certifies the applicant was helpful in order to proceed. This key requirement has proved a stumbling block in some cases. Some Washington counties have systems in place to consider U Visa certification requests in a timely manner. Other counties don’t — and clients in those counties suffer delays that can derail their applications.
Unfortunately, a recent bill to streamline the U Visa application process quietly died in the Republican-led Senate. SHB 2895 would have required law-enforcement agencies to respond to certification requests from victims within 90 days. It would not have changed the criteria for making a helpfulness determination nor the number of U Visas given every year. But it would have ensured that the certification process is uniform throughout Washington state.
Improving the relationship between law enforcement and immigrants without documents is an important step toward any immigration reform. U Visas provide an escape hatch for victims of serious crimes who choose to engage with law enforcement. They give mothers a way out and disadvantaged communities the chance to see police in the role of protectors. They also take power away from abusers and hold them to account for their actions.
For those reasons, it is a shame to see such a common-sense reform fail.