By Kayla Young
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