Barriers and Successes in U Visas for Immigrant Victims: The Experiences of Legal Assistance for Victims Grantees

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Cutler, Children, Youth, Family

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Arts and Social Sciences Journal


This article, co-authored by Karen Monahan, was the result of a collaborative effort among immigration legal services providers, experts, researchers, and staff of the VAWA Measuring Effectiveness Initiative project at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service. The original paper was developed and used to provide guidance to Legal Assistance for Victims grantees on how best to advocate for U visa-eligible victims; this peer-reviewed article provides more legal context and detail on the experiences of the grantees and the victims they represented.

This article examines barriers encountered and successes experienced in the provision of legal representation and advocacy to victims of violence applying for legal immigration status under the Violence against Women Act’s U visa protections. The U visa is designed for immigrant victims who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of criminal activity, and who have helped, are helping or are likely to be helpful to government officials in the detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. This article is based on quantitative and qualitative data reported by grantees of the Legal Assistance for Victims grant program administered by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. Legal Assistance for Victims program grantees provide legal aid to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or stalking and report semi-annually on services provided. The sample consists of grantees who reported serving high proportions of immigrant and limited English proficient victims of violence in 2007 and 2008.

The article focuses on problems, successes, and creative solutions reported by attorneys and advocates working with immigrant victims eligible to receive crime victim U visas under federal immigration laws. Victims applying for U visa immigration relief must, under current law, submit a U visa certification signed by the head of a law enforcement agency, prosecutor, judge, or other government official with their U visa application.

This research provides information regarding effective strategies and best practices used by grantees that are successful in obtaining U visa certification. The systemic barriers that immigrant victims and their advocates encounter when working with U visa are also discussed, along with creative solutions grantees are using to overcome these barriers.


doi: 10.4172/2151-6200.S1-005