You’re not a United States citizen. You came into the United States with no documentation. You have been the victim of a crime. You’re scared. You don’t feel like you can go to the police because you might get deported. What can you do?
What should I do if I was the victim of a crime?
If you were the victim of a crime, there are options for you, even if you are here without documents. You just need to talk to an immigration lawyer to discuss those options. The government has provided protection for those non-citizens who are here without documents and have been the victim of a crime. It is called a U visa. The government has created a safe harbor for people who have been the victim of a crime. If you were the victim of a particular crime and you cooperate with law enforcement, you may be eligible for a U visa and ultimately, a green card.
What is a U Visa and how would I be eligible?
The U Visa was developed to encourage undocumented aliens to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement in the prosecution of people who commit crimes. The U Visa provides immigration protection against deportation and ultimately can lead to a greencard. In order to be eligible for a U visa, you must have:
- suffered substantial physical or mental abuse,
- resulting from criminal activity
- possesses information concerning the criminal activity,
- has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity,
- certification has been obtained from a federal, state or local law enforcement authority, and
- the criminal activity violated the laws of the U.S. or occurred in the U.S.
You don’t have to be physically hurt to obtain a U Visa. It is enough to sustain substantial mental abuse. So, for example, if you were the victim of an armed robbery, you may have sustained substantial mental abuse sufficient to meet that element of the U Visa requirements. It also doesn’t have to be a pending case. If you were a victim in the past but didn’t know about a U Visa, you may be able to go back and get law enforcement to give you a certification.
What are the benefits of a U visa?
If you are able to obtain a U visa, it will be good for up to four (4) years and extensions are possible. During the process, you can apply for a greencard and eventually obtain United States citizenship. With a U Visa, you are allowed to stay and work lawfully in the United States. You also may be able to obtain lawful status for your children.
How do I obtain a U Visa?
The only way to obtain a U Visa is by obtaining a certification from law enforcement. This means, a police officer or prosecutor will have to fill out a form certifying that you were the victim of a qualifying crime and that you were, are, or are going to be helpful in the investigation. There doesn’t have to be an arrest or prosecution in order to obtain a U Visa, but you must obtain a law enforcement certification. You obtain a U Visa by filing a Form I-918 and other forms with USCIS.
What type of crimes would make me eligible for a U Visa?
You must be the victim of a qualifying crime in order to be eligible for a U Visa. There is a whole list of qualifying crimes and a catch-all provision, however, some of the more common offenses are rape, domestic violence, and felonious assault.
What about my kids? Would they get a U Visa too?
If you are eligible for a U Visa, your children may be eligible too, either because they too were victims, or as a derivative on your petition.
I’m afraid I’ll be deported if I report the crime.
The U visa was created to provide protection against deportation for those who are victims of crime. When you report a crime, you are reporting it to a local agency. For the most part, they are not interested in your immigration status. Immigration is under federal jurisdiction, not state jurisdiction. The most local law enforcement agencies can do is report you to ICE. This would be bad policy however, as it would hurt their efforts to prosecute crimes. So what should you do?
If you were the victim of a crime and think you might be eligible for a greencard but are scared to notify law enforcement, schedule a consultation with an immigration lawyer. That immigration lawyer should be able to explain the process in more detail, discuss your specific facts, and give you advice on how you should proceed.
Will I get a U Visa right away?
Unfortunately not. Although, in theory, this is a wonderful pathway to citizenship, the truth is that there is a tremendous backlog, which has caused a long delay. U visa petitions filed in 2014 are only now being adjudicated. That means, if you filed a petition in 2014, USCIS is just now getting around to deciding whether to give you a visa. Again, you should consult with an immigration attorney to discuss your options and the timing of your immigration case.
Jeremy Lasnetski is a partner at the Law Offices of Shorstein, Lasnetski, & Gihon. The firm focuses on criminal defense, immigration and personal injury. Mr. Lasnetski focuses his practice on immigration and criminal defense. Mr. Lasnetski is the former Jacksonville Regional Vice Chair of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association, Central Florida Chapter and has represented clients in deportation proceedings, USCIS benefit cases, consular processing cases, and more. He routinely gives presentations on immigration law issues to both criminal and immigration lawyers at conferences and seminars throughout the State of Florida.