Being in the U.S. without proper legal documents has always made for an uncertain life. In the current social and political environment, efforts to find a viable route to asylum and avoid removal have become even more difficult.
One path that has proven fruitful for many in Kentucky and elsewhere has been the U visa. Created in 2000 as a provision of the Violence Against Women Act, it provides a means for undocumented individuals who are victims of abuse and their immediate families to become documented. To be eligible, the victim needs to get a certificate from local police that says they have been "helpful" in investigating or prosecuting a crime. However, it's not an easy route to take and there's worry this road won't stay open.
The cause for this concern is the executive order signed earlier this year by President Trump. It declares "all removable aliens" are subject to deportation and that federal immigration authorities will partner with local police departments to step up enforcement.
As many readers already know, recent federal policy has been to focus deportation efforts on nonimmigrants affiliated with gangs, convicted of felonies or who pose a threat to the nation's security. However, in 2011, the president granted particular protection to U visa holders. With the change in administration, though, it's hard to know where things stand.
On one hand, an official for Immigration and Custom Enforcement says the U visa policy is still in force. On the other, the executive order makes deportation a priority for anyone facing criminal charges, "where such charge has not been resolved."
This raises flags for many legal observers. They say if an undocumented abuse victim gets swept up by authorities for any reason, they could face deportation before ever being able to apply for and obtain a U visa.
In light of this, many victims are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they try to end the abuse and protect themselves and their families, they have to call police. But if they call police, they could find themselves arrested and on a fast track to deportation – leaving their children at the mercy of their abuser. Faced with that, many reportedly choose to stay in the abusive situation.
If you are undocumented and have questions about whether you could be eligible for a U visa, you owe it to yourself to consult an experienced attorney.