Long visa delays leave immigrant victims of crime in the lurch, argue NC legal advocates | WFAE

By Kayla Young

Read more at: Long visa delays leave immigrant victims of crime in the lurch, argue NC legal advocates | WFAE 90.7 – Charlotte’s NPR News Source

Two federal lawsuits originating in North Carolina could have national implications for immigrant victims of crime. Visa processing backlogs mean victims must wait years to access the immigration protections they need to assist in criminal investigations, and legal advocates say those delays violate the law.

More than 20 years ago, Congress established the U visa, a status designed for non-citizens who were victims of a serious crime, like human trafficking or domestic violence, while in the United States.

A major goal of the program is to assist law enforcement investigations by allowing cooperative victims to remain and work in the U.S.

But only 10,000 victims can qualify annually, and for years now, that cap has been easily met, explained Anna Cushman, an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Battered Immigrant Project.

“I think it shows that this is a successful program. Congress has created something that is incredibly useful for law enforcement, honors our humanitarian values as a country, and assists immigrant crime victims,” Cushman said.

That success has also meant a substantial backlog of U visa applications, translating into wait periods ranging from four to seven years in many cases.

“I’ve had a client die while his case was pending,” Cushman said. “If we think about all the things that happen in five years, if any of us thought about where we were five years ago, it’ll feel like a different era.”

As of 2021, more than 170,000 U visa applications were pending with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Legal Aid of North Carolina, North Carolina Justice Center, and Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy are now suing USCIS over that backlog in Nebraska and Vermont, where U visas are processed.

Long visa delays leave immigrant victims of crime in the lurch, argue NC legal advocates | WFAE 90.7 – Charlotte’s NPR News Source

Advocacy Center Files Lawsuit to Fight U Visa Backlog

United by a common cause, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy (Advocacy Center), and the North Carolina Justice Center, are working together to obtain legal relief for immigrant victims of crime amidst significant delays in U Visa application processing. 

Over 150 victims of crime have filed suit in Nebraska and Vermont against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) alleging that the agency has delayed the processing of the victims’ U Visa applications for years. The victims have cooperated with law enforcement agencies to prosecute the perpetrator, making them eligible for U Visa legal status in the United States. However, significant delays in the granting of the visas have left victims without justice. 

Congress enacted the U Visa for victims of crime in 2000 as a tool for law enforcement and a means to provide benefits to victims of crime who have been helpful to law enforcement. Benefits such as work authorization and legal status help victims achieve financial stability and independence. The years-long delays in processing the applications mean that victims are unable to work and support themselves and their families. 

“For the domestic violence victim who just reported the crimes of their abusive partner, the very same partner that paid the rent, it’s essential that work authorization is available as soon as possible, not five years from now,” said Rona Karacaova, Managing Attorney of Legal Aid NC’s Battered Immigrant Project. “These lawsuits will improve public safety and bring financial stability within victims’ reach like Congress intended.” 

Legal Aid of NC’s Battered Immigrant Project, the Advocacy Center’s Immigrant Justice Program, the NC Justice Center, and Brad Banias of Banias Law, along with assistance from local counsel, Brett Stokes and Jill Martin-Diaz of the Vermont Immigrant Assistance Clinic at Vermont Law and Graduate School, filed the lawsuits against USCIS in Nebraska on Jan. 9 and Vermont on Feb. 2, 2023. 

The lawsuits seek agency action on the delayed cases, specifically employment authorization, protection against deportation, and travel documents for petitioners abroad in need of re-unification with their families in the U.S. The lawsuits are also the first of their kind brought on behalf of U visa petitioners en masse in Nebraska and Vermont. 

“We support the litigation filed by Legal Aid of NC, NC Justice Center, and Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy on behalf of U visa petitioners,” said Sheriff Charles S. Blackwood on behalf of the Orange County, NC Sheriff’s Office. “Any victim who learns it will take years to receive a U visa is likely discouraged from applying. The potential benefits of obtaining lawful status through the process feel too remote and are therefore not an effective incentive to report any crime or voluntarily engage with a law enforcement officer. Reluctance on the part of any portion of the community to report crime jeopardizes everyone’s safety and complicates our ability to protect the most vulnerable members of society.”  

Legal Aid NC’s Battered Immigrant Project, the Advocacy Center’s Immigrant Justice Program, and the North Carolina Justice Center advocate for immigrant survivors. The lawsuits are intended to compel the USCIS to follow Congress’s intent to protect immigrant victims of crime and provide law enforcement effective tools to investigate and prosecute serious criminal activity.   

Welcome, SHARE Charlotte!

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy officially welcomed SHARE Charlotte as a new tenant of the Advocacy Center, at a special event held February 23, 2023 with CEO Toussaint Romain and SHARE’s Managing Director, Melissa Hovey. Both leaders discussed the importance of strengthening community-based solutions at a SHARE-a-latte event hosted at their shared space on Albemarle Road.

SHARE Charlotte started as a single platform built for Charlotteans to find and connect with local nonprofits who need support and volunteers. In December 2012, that platform went live with 87 nonprofit partners. In ten years, the platform has grown to 624 nonprofit partners, representing approximately 85% of all active 501c3 organizations in Mecklenburg County. SHARE’s community-wide giving campaigns and events have influenced $42M in financial support to local nonprofits and 22,000 volunteer opportunities.

Sharing space in the Advocacy Center’s new east Charlotte location will increase SHARE Charlotte’s visibility in a diverse and growing part of Charlotte. The Advocacy Center will benefit from increased awareness among SHARE Charlotte’s vast network of nonprofit partners which have the potential to create partnerships and synergy for the benefit of the Advocacy Center’s client base.

“The vision of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is to build a just community where all people are treated fairly and have access to legal representation to meet their basic human needs. We cannot achieve that vision alone,” said Romain. “SHARE supports like-minded nonprofit organizations in Charlotte and beyond with opportunities to connect, grow and thrive.”

“The need in our community is so great. In order to empower Charlotte neighbors to achieve safety, security and stability, it takes every agency and organization working closely together,” said Hovey. “We are excited about the natural intersections that will occur from sharing space.”

Both organizations are committed to fostering a spirit of networking and celebrate the unique opportunity to advocate for Charlotte nonprofits and the community.

Record-breaking Open Enrollment

Our Health Insurance Navigators guide families and individuals through the often-confusing healthcare landscape, helping to ensure they have fair access to affordable healthcare. This year, our team increased their presence in the community, offering nearly 1,000 appointments at over 20 locations throughout Mecklenburg, Union, & Cabarrus Counties. 

In total, the Navigator team:

  • Held 971 appointments
  • Enrolled or renewed 250 consumer in coverage on Healthcare.gov
  • Provided advice or resource assitance to 328 consumers
  • Processed 111 Medicaid applications

The team’s extensive outreach efforts were crucial to ensure health insurance coverage for those who needed it the most.  Across North Carolina, over 800,000 individuals enrolled in coverage on Healthcare.gov, the fifth highest state in the United States.

We are incredibly proud of our hardworking navigators and their efforts to provide #HealthCareforAll

United Way Neighborhoods

In January, United Way of Greater Charlotte announced a 2023 investment of $16 million into the Charlotte region to fight poverty and improve economic mobility.   As part of the initiative, the Advocacy Center will partner with 8 neighborhoods under the United Neighborhoods grant to offer civil legal assistance to residents. These neighborhoods include:

  • Graham Street/N. Tryon Street
  • Lakeview
  • Albemarle Rd/Central Ave
  • Freedom Drive/Wilkson Boulevard
  • North Mecklenburg: W. Davidson/Smithville/Pottstown
  • North Mecklenburg: Huntington Green
  • Sugar Creek/I-85
  • West Boulevard
  • Grier Heights

The Advocacy Center’s Community Empowerment Project was part of the pilot United Neighborhood program in Grier Heights. Building on what was learned this past year, this opportunity further reflects our organization’s shift to offer place-based services.   Our new Community Advocacy team will partner directly with the neighborhood quarterbacks to empower communities to self-identify their most pressing civil legal needs. We look forward to developing these partnerships to create sustained change in our community!

Healthcare.gov Premium Tax Credits and Filing Your 2022 Taxes

If you currently do not have health insurance, we can help! Click here to learn more and make an appointment with a health insurance navigator today.

Health insurance on Healthcare.gov is affordable for many people because the government subsidizes your monthly premiums based on your income. These subsidies are called Premium Tax Credits. If you receive them each month during the year, they are called Advance Payments of the Premium Tax Credit (APTCs).  

If you receive these government subsidies, you need to reconcile these payments on your tax return each year. The IRS requires you to do this to make sure that you received the proper amount of subsidies based on your income. 

Use Form 8962 to see how much premium tax credit you qualify for based on your actual year-end income.  If your income at the end of the year is higher than you estimated on your Healthcare.gov application, you will need to pay back some of your subsidies. This is because you were given more subsidies than you were qualified for, based on your annual income.  

If your income at the end of the year is lower than you estimated on your Healthcare.gov application, you may be eligible for a refund.  Use form 8962 to claim the Premium Tax Credit. 

How do I know if I received APTCs?

If you enrolled yourself or a family member in a Healthcare.gov plan, you will receive Form 1095-A from the Health Insurance Marketplace. This form will show the months that you were covered by a Healthcare.gov plan and will show the amount of APTC that was paid to your health insurance company on your behalf. The Marketplace also provides this information to the IRS. 

Are there changes for filing taxes in 2022? What do I need to do? 

If you received excess APTCs in 2022, you will be required to pay these back when you file your tax return.  

If you find on Form 8962 that you received a smaller amount of subsidies than you qualify for based on your year-end income, you may claim the Premium Tax Credit on form 8962. 

The deadline to file your 2022 federal income tax return is April 18, 2023. If you do not reconcile your APTCs by filing your 1095-A on your 2022 tax return, you run the risk of not being eligible for APTCs in future years. 

Extra Food Stamps are Ending

Obtenga más información en Español 

What are the Food Stamp Emergency Allotments? 

Since March 2020, households received an extra $95 or more in Food Stamp benefits per month. These temporary pandemic related increases were authorized by Congress to help meet food needs. Due to recent action by the federal government, these extra payments are ending. February will be the last month households will receive this extra payment.  

What should I do? 

Review your current Food Stamp Benefit amount:

You can check your FNS/emergency allotment balance and transaction history three ways:  

  • Visit website www.ebtedge.com. Click on Cardholder Login, create an account, and add your EBT card number. 
  • Download and use the EBT Edge mobile app (can be downloaded on Google Play or Apple Store).  
  • Contact the North Carolina EBT Call Center at 1-888-622-7328 

Regular monthly FNS benefits are issued between the 3rd and 21st of every month. Emergency allotments are issued on or after the 22nd of the month. Starting in March, you will only receive this first payment.  

Compare your information:

If you are not already receiving the maximum monthly benefit for your household, you may be able to increase your benefits amount by updating your information.  

Household SizeMaximum Monthly Benefit
Each additional person+$211

Report changes that may help you increase your benefits:

  • INCOME: Did you lose work hours or have your pay cut?
  • SHELTER: Did your rent, mortgage, or property taxes increase?
  • DEPENDENT CARE: Are you paying more for child care or care of a disabled adult?
  • MEDICAL EXPENSES: Does anyone in your household who is 60 or older or has a disability have medical costs over $35/month? This includes the cost of medical services, medical supplies, health insurance premiums, copays, prescription and over-the-counter medications, and more.
  • CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS: Are you legally obligated to pay child support?
  • YOUR ADDRESS: This will not impact your benefit level, but you may miss important updates if DSS does not have your current address.

Contact your local DSS to report changes and/or find out if your expense qualifies as a deduction:

Contact your DSS caseworker (if you have one), go to the DSS office in person, or call their customer service number. You can also appeal if you believe your regular, monthly benefits were improperly calculated. 

Local DSS Offices:

  • Mecklenburg County
    • 704-336-3000
    • Wallace H. Kuralt Centre, 301 Billingsley Road, Charlotte, NC 28211
    • Community Resource Center, 3205 Freedom Drive, Charlotte, NC 28208
  • Union County
    • 704-296-4300
    • 2330 Concord Avenue Monroe, NC 28110
  • Cabarrus County
    • 704-920-1400
    • 1303 S. Cannon Blvd. Kannapolis, NC 28083

If something goes wrong, contact an advocate: 

If you have taken the above steps and still think something is wrong with your food stamps case, contact a legal advocate for assistance. 

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy
(Mecklenburg County)
704-376-1600 | Linea de Español 800-247-1931

Legal Aid of North Carolina
(statewide except for counties served by Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Pisgah Legal Services)
866-219-LANC (5262) | legalaidnc.org

Pisgah Legal Services
(Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, and Yancey counties, Qualla Boundary)
800-489-6144 | pisgahlegal.org

What other food resources are available?  

  • WIC: If you have a child under 5 and/or pregnant or breastfeeding, you may be eligible for WIC. Learn more about WIC and complete a WIC referral online at https://www.ncdhhs.gov/ncwicreferral.  
  • 211: Visit www.nc211.org or dial 211 to be connected to community food resources. 
  • NC Care 360: Request help or find resources by clicking the “For Individuals” tab on https://nccare360.org/  

Cupones de Alimentos Adicionales Terminan 

¿Qué son las asignaciones de emergencia de cupones para alimentos?

Desde marzo 2020, hogares recibieron $95 o más en beneficios de cupones de alimentos (FNS por sus siglas en inglés) adicionales por mes. Estos aumentos temporales relacionados con la pandemia fueron autorizados por el Congreso para ayudar a satisfacer sus necesidades alimentarias. Debido a la reciente acción del gobierno federal, estos pagos adicionales están terminando. Febrero será el último mes en que recibirán este pago adicional.    

¿Qué debo hacer? 

Revise la cantidad actual de sus Cupones de Alimentos:

Puede verificar su saldo de FNS /asignaciones de emergencia y el historial de transacciones de tres maneras:  

  • Visite el sitio web www.ebtedge.com. Haga clic en Inicio de sesión del titular de la tarjeta, cree una cuenta y agregue su número de tarjeta EBT.    
  • Descargue y use la aplicación móvil EBT Edge (se puede descargar en Google Play o Apple Store).  
  • Comuníquese con el Centro de llamadas EBT de Carolina del Norte al 1-888-622-7328.   

Los beneficios de FNS regulares son depositados entre el día 3 y 21 de cada mes. Las asignaciones de emergencia se depositan a partir del día 22 de cada mes.  Febrero será el último mes en que recibirán este pago adicional.  

Compare su información:

Si no está recibiendo el beneficio mensual máximo para su hogar, es posible que pueda aumentar su monto de beneficios actualizando su información. 

Miembros del Hogar ElegiblesBeneficio mensual máximo
Cada persona adicional+$211

Reporte cambios que podrían ayudarle a aumentar sus beneficios:

  • INGRESOS: ¿Perdió horas de trabajo o le redujeron el salario?   
  • VIVIENDA: ¿Aumentaron su renta, hipoteca o impuestos de propiedad?  
  • CUIDADO DE DEPENDIENTES: ¿Está pagando más por el cuidado de niños o el cuidado de un adulto discapacitado?   
  • GASTOS MÉDICOS: ¿Alguien en su hogar de 60 años o más o que tenga una discapacidad tiene costos médicos más de $ 35 / mes? Esto incluye el costo de servicios médicos, suministros médicos, primas de seguro de salud, copagos, medicamentos recetados y de venta libre, y más.   
  • PAGOS DE MANUTENCIÓN INFANTIL: ¿Está legalmente obligado a pagar manutención infantil?   
  • SU DIRECCIÓN: Esto no afectará su nivel de beneficios, pero puede perderse actualizaciones importantes si el Departamento de Servicios Sociales (DSS) no tiene su dirección actual. 

Comuníquese con su oficina de DSS local para informar cambios y/o averiguar si su gasto califica como una deducción: 

Comuníquese con su trabajador de DSS (si tiene uno), vaya a la oficina de DSS en persona o llame al número de servicio al cliente. También puede apelar si cree que sus beneficios mensuales regulares fueron calculados incorrectamente. 

Oficinas locales de DSS:

  • Condado de Mecklenburg
    • 704-336-3000
    • Wallace H. Kuralt Centre, 301 Billingsley Road, Charlotte, NC 28211
    • Community Resource Center, 3205 Freedom Drive, Charlotte, NC 28208
  • Condado de Union
    • 704-296-4300
    • 2330 Concord Avenue Monroe, NC 28110
  • Condado de Cabarrus
    • 704-920-1400
    • 1303 S. Cannon Blvd. Kannapolis, NC 28083

Si algo malo sucede, comuníquese con un defensor:

Si ha seguido los pasos anteriores y aún piensa que algo está mal con su caso de cupones de alimento, comuníquese con un representante legal para obtener ayuda. 

El Centro de Apoyo Legal de Charlotte
(Condado de Mecklenburg)
704-376-1600 | Linea de Español 800-247-1931

Asistencia Legal de Carolina del Norte
(en todo el estado excepto en condados atendidos por el Centro de Apoyo Legal Charlotte y Servicios Legales Pisgah)
866-219-LANC (5262) | legalaidnc.org

Servicios Legales de Pisgah
(Condados de Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, y Yancey, Qualla Boundary)
800-489-6144 | pisgahlegal.org

¿Qué otros recursos alimentarios están disponibles?

  • WIC: Si tiene un hijo/a menor de 5 años y/o está embarazada o amamantando, puede ser elegible para WIC. Obtenga más información sobre WIC y complete una referencia de WIC en línea en https://www.ncdhhs.gov/ncwicreferral.  
  • 211: Visite nc211.org o marque 211 para conectarse con recursos alimenticios comunitarios.
  • NC Care 360: Solicite ayuda o busque recursos haciendo clic en la pestaña “For Individuals” en https://nccare360.org/.  

Property Tax Relief Assistance

With soaring property values across the state, many North Carolinians are struggling to keep up with their housing costs, including property taxes.  But there is help.  North Carolina offers property tax relief to low-income elderly, disabled, and/or disabled veterans.   Qualifying owners may receive an exclusion of the taxable value of their residence of either $25,000 or 50% (whichever is greater) but they must apply before June 1, 2023.

Who is eligible?

Qualifying owners must meet the following requirements:

  • The applicant’s name must be on the deed or title to the residence as of January 1, 2022.
  • The residence must be the applicant’s primary residence.
  • The applicant must be a North Carolina resident.
  • The applicant must be at least 65 years of age or totally and permanently disabled. (Total and permanent disability is a disability that substantially hinders a person from obtaining gainful employment.)
  • The applicant’s income, including any spouse in the household, must be $33,800 or less for 2022.

What if I am a Veteran?

Property tax relief is also available for Disabled Veterans in Mecklenburg County.  These qualifying homeowners may receive an exclusion of the first $45,000 of the taxable value of their residence. The veteran must be an honorably discharged veteran, the home must be occupied by the disabled veteran, and that veteran must be 100% totally and permanently disabled due to a service-connected related injury.

This exemption is also available to the surviving spouse (who has not remarried) of a Disabled Veteran. This does not apply to combat veterans, unless they have suffered a 100% total and permanent disability, which is service related. There is no age or income limitation.

When do I apply?

Qualifying owners must apply with the Assessor’s Office between January 1st and June 1st.

Where can I find help?

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is available to assist low-income elderly, disabled, and/or disabled veteran residents prepare their NC property tax relief applications. 

Free Clinic
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, 5535 Albemarle Road, Charlotte, NC 28212
March 29, 2023
Register: 980-256-7952

Virtual appointments are also available March 1, 2023-May 31, 2023. Please call 980-256-7952.

Clinics are also being offered to residents in Grier Heights (April 29th) and Sugar Creek and surrounding communities (May 11th).

Additional Resources:

Mecklenburg County Property Tax Relief Program

Property Tax Relief Application Form

Filing your 2022 tax returns: Frauds & scams

Be aware of fraudulent tax preparers!

The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. If you receive an unsolicited e-mail that appears to be from the IRS, Social Security Administration or other organization claiming to represent the United States government, you should report it by forwarding it to phishing@irs.gov.

Some tax scammers also use snail mail; so be aware, when you receive regular mail that purports to be from the IRS too.  If you are not sure, contact the IRS directly.

Keep-in-mind, as a taxpayer you are legally responsible for the information you represent on your tax return, even if the tax return is prepared by a third-party professional.

Do’s & Don’ts

  • DON’T use tax preparers who promise higher returns. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
  • DON’T use a paid tax return preparer who is not in compliance with IRS PTIN requirements.
  • DON’T fall for flyers and advertisements promising you “free money” from the IRS.  There is no such thing as “free money” from the IRS!
  • DO choose a tax preparer that has a valid IRS “Preparer Tax Identification Number” (PTIN).
    • Paid tax return preparers must have a PTIN; and they must renew it annually.  Tax return preparers must also record their PTIN on your tax return and sign your tax return as the paid tax return preparer.
  • DO review your return before you sign it and make sure your preparer signs it too.
  • DO consider going to a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) location to have your tax return prepared for free.