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Trafficking Victims Are Waiting Years To Get 'U Visas'

The U visa was created as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. It was intended to help law enforcement investigate what the government calls "serious crimes," such as domestic violence, torture and trafficking. Most applicants have been waiting years for it, NPR reports. NPR spoke to 17 U visa applicants, each of whom have been waiting for two to seven years for their visas. They describe a program whose years-long delays put them in immigration limbo, spending months helping law enforcement catch their perpetrators while trying to survive without the means to work legally. The goal was to be able to hold the crime offenders accountable and at the same time offer help and protection to the victims," said Leslye Orloff, one of the program's drafters in 2000. "It absolutely was not intended to take that much time."

The U Visa is meant to encourage more reporting of crime in undocumented immigrant communities, enhancing law enforcement and immigrant relationships and offering protection to victims. The law set an annual cap of 10,000 visas. Orloff says this visa is a two-way street. Applicants only become eligible for the visa if certifying agencies — like law enforcement — deem them fully cooperative in helping to catch their perpetrator. However, there are no standards defining what being fully cooperative means. According to a report published by the University of North Carolina School of Law, access to the U visa depended on where the crime occurred. Certification policies were different depending on the state, city and county, varying from denying all petitions to only certifying if the perpetrator was caught. There's a large backlog of cases waiting to be reviewed. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the program, says more than 300,000 U visa applications are pending.


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