The U Visa's Failed Promise for Survivors of Domestic Violence
38 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2016 Last revised: 3 Feb 2017
Date Written: November 19, 2016
Recognizing the unique vulnerabilities of immigrants who become victims of crime in the United States, Congress enacted the U visa, a form of immigration relief that provides victims, including survivors of domestic violence, a path to legal status. Along with this humanitarian aim, the U visa was intended to aid law enforcement in efforts to investigate and prosecute crime, based on the notion that victims without legal status might otherwise be too fearful to “come out of the shadows” by reporting offenses to the police. Although these two goals were purportedly coequal, in practice, by requiring survivors to cooperate with law enforcement in order to obtain U nonimmigrant status, the benefits to police and prosecutors are achieved at the expense of the victims Congress sought to protect, exacerbating the very vulnerabilities the U visa was intended to address.
This article posits that this marginalization of immigrant victims’ interest should have been foreseen, as U visa requirements are analogous to other mandatory interventions in cases of domestic violence that have disempowered and destabilized survivors, particularly poor women of color. In tracing the history of the public response to domestic violence, from the time when spousal abuse was ignored or condoned to the overcorrection that has led to compulsory state involvement in women’s lives, it becomes clear that the U visa has perpetuated the swing of the pendulum away from victim autonomy and toward an aggressive criminal justice response to domestic violence. This article details why such a shift is particularly damaging for immigrant survivors – due to language barriers, complicated relationships with police, familial ties and economic constraints – and proposes novel solutions that mitigate the harmful effects of the U visa certification requirement and break away from ineffective conventions surrounding assistance for survivors of domestic violence.
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