Last year, my church in DC did a sermon series called "One Little Yes", where the pastor talked about how making small choices every day could change your life, and the lives of others around you. In immigration work, one person's "yes" can change an entire case.
When an individual is the victim of a crime in the United States, and they work with police officers or other officials investigating the crime, they can be eligible for a U-visa. In order to petition for a U-visa, an individual has to show five things: (1) he/she has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as the result of an enumerated crime, (2) he/she possesses information concerning the criminal activity, (3) he/she was, is, or is likely to be helpful to the investigation or prosecution, (4) the criminal activity violated the laws of the U.S. or occurred in the U.S. or its territories, and (5) he/she is not inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act. U-visas are used in all kinds of situations, including rape and sexual assault during border crossing and domestic violence from a non-US Citizen or non-Legal Permanent Resident partner.
At its core, domestic violence is about differing amounts of power among two people. That power differential is only exacerbated by the dependency of one person on another for legal status, or the threat of deportation. In one study, 48% of Latinas reported that their partner's violence increased when they arrived in the United States. In another study, 60% of Korean immigrant women said they had been abused by their partners.
For many of these women, a U-visa, its work authorization , and permission to bring family members, can be a way forward. However, an individual seeking a U-visa must get a U-visa certification, which is a paper signed by law enforcement or another qualifying agency that certifies that the petitioning individual has been helpful with the investigation or prosecution. Every agency and prosecutors' office is different, and will grant the certification at different times in the process. A client's entire U-visa application is contingent on that certification: no certification, no application. Some clients come to GAIN with a U-visa certification already in hand. Others aren't so lucky. This could easily turn into another situation where a battered immigrant does what they should, but their immigration status is dependent on the actions of the agency.
Over the past few weeks, we have been searching for someone to help us with a U-visa certification for someone who lives in a rural part of Georgia. As with many rural areas, it's not that people don't want to help, it's just that they don't know about resources such as U-visa certifications. We had called several offices across the county and neighboring counties, but were met with indifference or confusion. On Wednesday, we were fortunate enough to speak with someone in an agency who was willing to help.
This one "yes" allows us to move forward with this case. While there might be other hurdles along the way, this one individual's willingness to open up the dialogue is now giving someone a chance at a visa.