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Left in Limbo

By Megan Kinneyn | May 2, 2007

Law Office Management

May 2, 2007

Left in Limbo

How bureaucratic delay is making life more difficult for immigrant victims of domestic violence. By Itir Yakar

By Itir Yakar
      Edited by Martin Lasden
      When it comes to domestic violence, immigrants who lack the language or survival skills to get the assistance they need are especially vulnerable. That's why, back in 2000, Congress approved the U visa program to help such victims obtain green cards. Under the program, immigrants who have been subjected to physical or mental abuse due to criminal acts on U.S. soil?including domestic violence and human trafficking?may apply for temporary work visas and qualify for green cards in just three years if they assist in investigations or prosecutions.
      However, it wasn't until 2003, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a set of temporary guidelines, that the program got off the ground. (The DHS still hasn't delivered its permanent set of regulations, which were due in 2006.)
      A spokesperson for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services?the bureau of the DHS responsible for the regulations?says the agency is moving as fast as it can to issue clear and concise regulations but cannot say exactly when that will happen. The spokesperson attributed the delay to the department's need to balance law enforcement and humanitarian concerns.
      This leaves many immigrants in limbo who otherwise might have been eligible for permanent legal status in the United States. It also makes it harder for lawyers, who usually work on these cases pro bono. "It's been confusing for advocates on the ground," acknowledges Jeannette Zanipatin, policy director at the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.
      Under the law, immigrants qualify for U visa relief only after they get certifications from law enforcement that they've assisted or are likely to assist with the investigation of a particular domestic violence case. Zanipatin says that's been especially problematic because "not all law enforcement agencies have been willing to sign certifications. It's not on their radar screens yet."
      Still, even without the benefits of the U visa, at least one option is available for some who have been directly affected by the delay. Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, people who suffer domestic violence and their children can apply for legal residence independent of their abusers.
      Gail Pendleton, a national consultant on violence and immigration, says significantly more people apply for immigration status under VAWA than under the U visa program. "Most people have not heard of the U [visa], or are afraid to pursue it because there are no [permanent] regulations," Pendleton says.

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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