USCIS announced recently that they have reached the quota for "U-visas" for this year. This means 10,000 visas have been granted to victims of serious crimes such as murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, and involuntary servitude who are helping law enforcement bring criminals to justice.
In these times when many states are seeking to further restrict and criminalize the daily lives of undocumented immigrants, it is important to recognize that undocumented immigrants are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. Some immigrants are specifically targeted as an easily exploited workforce subjected to slavery or peonage. Others fall victim to domestic abuse or street violence, afraid to report crimes or seek safety for fear of exposing themselves to deportation. The U-visa grants special status to certain crime victims so that they can come forward and participate in investigations ans prosecutions of dangerous criminals.
While this is in fact a form of relief for the victims, the visa is designed as a tool for law enforcement. A crime victim cannot just apply for a U-visa on her own. Rather, the visa requires attestation from a law enforcement agency that the victim is helping in investigation or prosecution of one of the listed crimes. If the victim ceases to cooperate with law enforcement, the visa can be cancelled.
Violence and organized crime thrive among populations who are afraid to go to police, and authorities cannot bring criminals to justice without the cooperation of victims and witnesses. Prior to the U-visa, there was not a systemized way for local law enforcement to offer undocumented crime victims protection from deportation. Victims had the choice of continuing to suffer criminal acts, or "outing" themselves and face likely deportation.
The 10,000 U-visas granted this year represent thousands of crimes that may have gone uninvestigated, unprosecuted, and unpunished were this program not in place.