By Gabriela Gutierrez
Current students, faculty and staff who are considered immigrant survivors may be eligible for a United States visa through services offered by the Central American Resource Center.
The Central American Resource Center, or CARECEN, shared information with East Los Angeles College Thursday on how current students, faculty and staff who are undocumented, specifically those who are considered immigrant survivors, can potentially qualify to obtain a U.S. visa.
CARECEN describes immigrant survivors as individuals who are routinely victimized by criminal and violent elements. Senior Staff Attorney Tessa Copeland said immigrant survivors might stay silent due to fear of losing their immigration status, fear of retaliation by either their perpetrator(s) or someone within the immigration field, or simply a lack of knowledge of the available resources to them.
There are three primary ways that an immigrant survivor can choose from to potentially obtain a U.S. visa.
·A Violence Against Women Act petition.
Each process has its own qualifying requirements and defining elements for immigrant survivors to learn about and choose which option is best for them. It is important to note that for each process, the qualifying requirements must all be met without exceptions.
To potentially qualify for a U-Visa, applicants must meet the following:
·Must be the victim of a “qualifying criminal activity.”
·Must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of that qualifying criminal activity.
·Must have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.
·Must possess information concerning that criminal activity.
·Must have certification from a federal, state, or local law enforcement authority certifying their helpfulness in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of the criminal activity, and
·The criminal activity must have violated the laws of the U.S. or occurred in the U.S.
“The idea behind the creation of the U-Visa is about creating this option so that noncitizens are not afraid to go to the police and report their crimes,” Copeland said.
Copeland said one of the most challenging things about applying for a U-Visa can be receiving certification from a law enforcement agency certifying that an applicant was helpful in the investigation because it is up to the agency to decide whether to certify or not.
A U-Visa typically has no time limit on the crime. If the crime happened years ago or a week ago, applicants are still able to apply.
With U-Visas, family members such as spouses, children or other eligible family members may derive status from the original applicant. All applicants must be admissible to the U.S. If a spouse, child or family member is not admissible to the U.S. then that person will not be eligible to derive status.
The U-Visa has an annual cap of 10,000 applicants, which means the process from beginning to end can be 15-20 years. Applicants deriving status from another applicant are not counted in the annual cap.
To potentially qualify for a VAWA petition, applicants must meet the following:
·Be the victim of battery or extreme cruelty committed by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or former spouse, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent, or a U.S. citizen son or daughter.
·Resided with the abuser at some time.
·Must be currently living in the U.S. and
·Have good moral character.
Although VAWA aids individuals who are victims of violent acts, it pertains specifically to those who have suffered domestic violence. Unlike a U-Visa, VAWA has no annual cap. VAWA has fewer applicants than a U-Visa or a T-Visa and the process is typically much faster than that of a U-Visa.
To potentially qualify for a T-Visa, an applicant must meet the following:
·Are or were a victim of a severe form of human trafficking.
·Are in the U.S., American Samoa, the Mariana Islands, or at a port of entry due to trafficking.
·Comply with any reasonable request from a law enforcement agency for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking (unless under 18 or unable to cooperate due to physical or psychological trauma).
·Demonstrate that they would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if they were removed from the U.S. and
·Are otherwise admissible to the U.S.
A T-Visa pertains to individuals who are victims of a severe form of human trafficking. Like U-Visas, T-Visas have an annual cap, but individuals deriving status from an applicant are not counted towards the cap. The annual cap for T-Visas is 5,000, however, the USCIS.gov site Q&A states that the T-Visa cap has never been reached.
The benefits of all three processes are that applicants who qualify can receive deferred status, a social security number and the ability to work in the U.S. without being persecuted for deportation. This is all before receiving their permanent residency if they are eligible to receive it.
CARECEN is currently offering free legal services to ELAC students and faculty. Appointments for college legal services can be made at https://carecenla.simplybook.me/v2/.