Are you a Victim of a Crime?

By Lupe Lopez

Inez made the dangerous journey from Guatemala to the border in Tijuana.  She believed that she had been lucky.  She was able to make it to Tijuana without incident.  When she arrived in Tijuana she kept to herself just as she had been warned.  Within a few days, Inez was in San Diego happily working in a small restaurant meeting new people every day.  There she met her first love.  Ernesto worked for his uncle, the owner of the restaurant. Over the next few months, Ernesto and Inez became romantically involved.  One night, Ernesto told Inez that they would be going to see a friend at a hotel.  When they arrived at the hotel, they both went to the friend’s room and knocked on the door.  When there was no answer, Ernesto pulled out the key and told Inez his friend had given him the key just in case.  Inez didn’t think anything of this and went into the hotel room with Ernesto.

While waiting for the supposed friend, Ernesto began trying to get intimate with Inez.  She refused and told him that she was not ready for this.  He insisted.  She continued to refuse.  Inez was surprised when the man she had trusted became violent.  Ernesto began beating her, then proceeded to rape her.  He warned her that if she called the police, he would kill her.  Meanwhile, a guest in the next room heard all the commotion and had contacted the police.  Inez was crying and trying to get dressed when the police knocked on the door.

After being rescued by the police, Inez’s ordeal was not over.  Because she was in the country illegally, she was turned over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  She was held for several days while she was interviewed and processed.  It turns out that Inez was not Ernesto’s first victim.  The police needed Inez to testify as a witness.  She had to stay in the country.  For this, Inez was given a “U visa.”

Inez was the victim of a crime where she suffered mental and physical abuse.  In addition, she was helpful to law enforcement in the investigation of the crime.  This made her eligible for the U Visa.  Victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or to government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity may be eligible for a U visa.  The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa created by Congress to allow law enforcement agencies the ability to investigate and prosecute criminals while still protecting the victims of the crimes.  The U visa provides nonimmigrant status to eligible victims.  The may remain, temporarily,  in the United States while assisting law enforcement.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service states that you may be eligible for a U nonimmigrant visa if:

  • You are the victim of qualifying criminal activity.
  • You have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity.
  • You have information about the criminal activity. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may possess the information about the crime on your behalf (see glossary for definition of ‘next friend’).
  • You were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may assist law enforcement on your behalf.
  • The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws.
  • You are admissible to the United States. If you are not admissible, you may apply for a waiver on a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant.

Of course, no one person wishes to be a victim of a crime; especially, when you are in a country that is foreign to you.  But if you have been a victim, it is important to know that there is a form of protection.  Victims of certain crimes may apply for U nonimmigrant status (U Visa).  On the USCIS website at USCIS.gov, you may find a list of crimes that qualify for a U Visa.  These crimes include abduction, abusive sexual contact, blackmail, domestic violence, extortion, involuntary servitude, kidnapping, torture, stalking, and many other crimes.

Victims of Crimes may also file for Family Members

Persons who have been approved for U nonimmigrant status may also apply for certain immediate relatives based on their approved application.  If the victim of the crime, as the principal applicant, is over the age of 21, they may apply for their spouse and children.  If the principal applicant is under the age of 21, they may petition on behalf of their spouse, children, parents, and unmarried siblings under the age of 18.

Applying for the U Visa

Many times, the law enforcement agency, itself, will provide the necessary paperwork for the application of a U visa.  This isn’t always the case.  The Law Offices of Jacob Sapochnick can be of assistance to you with this type of a visa.  Our offices will work with you and the government agency to obtain the documents required for the application.  There is no statute of limitations for the U visa; however, if the case has been closed for longer than five years, it may be difficult for you to obtain the required evidence and certification from the proper agency.  The USCIS also has many resources available for victims of crime.

To apply (petition) for a U nonimmigrant status, you will be required to submit (www.USCIS.gov):

It is also possible to apply for U nonimmigrant status from abroad (outside the United States).  The process is different from that listed above.  When your petition is approved, you must go through the U.S. Consular processing to enter the United States.

Petitions are reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis.  The crime itself and the impact it has had on the person will be reviewed.  Not all petitions are approved.  If approved, you may be eligible to file for permanent residency after having been physically present in the United States for at least three years.  You must be able to prove that you fulfilled all other requirements.  U Nonimmigrant status petitions and related forms are filed with the USCIS.  There is a filing fee that may be waived if there is a financial hardship.

Persons and their family members who have been in U Status for at least three years may also be eligible for permanent residency after three years.  To get further information on obtaining residency as the holder of a U visa, give us a call or if you have been a victim of a crime and are interested in obtaining a U visa contact our office and we will set up a free consultation.