Victims of domestic violence who are undocumented are often afraid to call the police out of fear that they will be deported. Abusers often use this threat as a tactic of power and control to silence immigrant victims of domestic violence. While it is true that some immigrant victims of domestic violence still face discrimination by law enforcement and the justice system, the reality is that the United States has put protections in place for immigrant victims of domestic violence to encourage them to call the police when they are being abused by their partner. The vast majority of law enforcement officials want immigrant victims to call them for help when they are being abused so they can protect victims and their children and hold abusers accountable. Victims of domestic violence will not be deported simply for reporting that they are a victim of crime.
In fact, undocumented immigrants residing in the United States who have been a victim of domestic violence or another qualifying crime may qualify for a U Visa if they are helpful in the investigation and/or prosecution of the criminal activity committed against them. The U visa was created by Congress to serve a dual purpose: 1) To serve as a law enforcement tool which can motivates victims to report crimes and cooperate in criminal investigations and 2) To provide humanitarian relief for victims of qualifying crimes. A U visa is a way to provide victims legal status for four years with the possibility of extending it in certain limited situations. It provides victims with the right to work while they are in the United States. Also, once a victim has had the U Visa for three years, h/he can apply for lawful permanent residence.
Domestic violence is a qualifying crime for a U visa. Other qualifying, related crimes are: felonious assault, rape, sexual assault, or stalking. For more information on qualifying crimes, you can look at http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/victims-human-trafficking-other-crimes/victims-criminal-activity-u-nonimmigrant-status/victims-criminal-activity-u-nonimmigrant-status.
In addition to being a victim of a crime, an applicant for a U visa will have to prove that h/she suffered substantial physical or mental abuse because of that particular crime and that h/he has been helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. To prove this “helpfulness” requirement, a victim must obtain a certification from law enforcement. Therefore it is important to understand that in order to qualify for a U Visa, there must be an investigation into the criminal activity and/or a prosecution of the criminal activity. The victim must have cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation of the crime, and if the crime was prosecuted, the victim must also have been helpful in the prosecution of the crime. Helpfulness generally means answering questions asked by the police, meeting with the district attorney’s office when requested, and attending court when requested. It also included updating law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office with contact information when a victim moves or changes phone numbers.
There are many reasons why a victim of domestic violence might not want to report a crime to the police or participate in prosecution, particularly when the offender does not have legal status in the United States, as doing so may result in the offender’s deportation. There is no one right way for a victim to ensure her/his safety. But it is an important consideration for a victim to understand that s/he will not be deported for reporting a crime and s/he will not be eligible for a U Visa unless they do report the crime and participate in the prosecution, if the case is prosecuted.
An applicant for a U visa must also be admissible to the United States. There are many grounds of inadmissibility to the United States, some of which are as follows: the applicant cannot have entered the United States without permission, lied to immigration authorities, have a criminal record, been unlawfully present in the United States for more than 6 months and then left, falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen for any benefit, be a threat to national security, just to name a few. If one of these grounds of inadmissibility applies to an applicant, s/he must fill out a waiver to submit with his/her application and provide evidence of why it is in the public or national interest for the waiver to be granted. Inadmissibility is a complex area of immigration law, and an applicant for a U visa should consult with an immigration attorney before filing a U visa application if s/he thinks she may be inadmissible to the United States.
If a victim of domestic violence believes h/she may be eligible for a U visa and wishes to file for a U Visa, some of the forms h/she may need to file include:
- Form I-918, Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status
- Form I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification
- This form must be signed by an authorized official of the certifying law enforcement agency and the official must confirm that the victim was helpful, is currently being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the case.
- A personal statement describing the circumstances of the criminal activity of which h/she was a victim, the suffering that h/she has endured as a result of the criminal activity, the way in which he/she assisted law enforcement, and why h/she wants to remain in the United States, ; and
- Evidence to establish each eligibility requirement and overcome the applicable grounds of inadmissibility.
If a victim is subject to any ground of inadmissibility, s/she will need to file an application to waive the applicable grounds of inadmissibility which is:
- Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant.
A victim of a crime of domestic violence should contact an attorney for assistance with filling out these forms. Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Battered Immigrant Project provides free immigration assistance to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking to victims who are low-income and eligible for a U visa. For more information you can call the Battered Immigrant Project toll free Intake Line at 1-866-204-7612 on Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m or refer to Legal Aid’s website:, If you have the financial resources to do so, you can also hire a private attorney. The NC Bar Association offers a Lawyer Referral Service. You can learn more about this service on their website: http://www.ncbar.org/public-resources/find-a-lawyer/ or call the referral service number at 1-800-662-7660.