Strategies for Overcoming U-Visa Certification Challenges

U Visa

Recently, I have seen an uptick in calls from clients who have been victims of crimes in the U.S. and who want to inquire about their potential eligibility for U visa status. I think this is in large part due to the emerging public awareness of these types of applications within immigrant communities.  The U visa was initiated through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, but the regulations were not passed (which means there was no way to affirmatively apply for it) until 2007.  So, it’s a relatively new type of immigration status.  This, coupled with the fact that there is no “statute of limitations” on the U visa, meaning that there is no limit on how old the qualifying crime is, means that there are many people out there who may already be eligible for a U visa but haven’t applied because they simply don’t know it exists.  I regularly have clients call me with other immigration-related questions but who end up discovering that they are great candidates for the U visa during our initial consultation.  The more the word spreads about the availability of the U, the more potential clients we will see emerge from the woodwork.

The increase in U visa applicants can present challenges, however.  One such obstacle can occur during the first stage of the U visa process – requesting the Law Enforcement Certification (USCIS Form I-918B)  from the police, prosecutor, or on rare occasions, the judge who adjudicated the criminal case.  The law enforcement certification is a short, 3-page form which needs to be completed by a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case and the victim’s helpfulness, and who is in a supervisory role within the organization.  It’s a short and simple form, but, as many U visa practitioners know, in some cases it can be the most difficult part of the process.

I have applied for U visa certifications for hundreds of cases in police departments and prosecutors’ offices throughout the country, and have found that, in some regions, the increase in U visa applications has created a bit of a headache.  This was not a process that was traditionally a part of these officials’ jobs, and, unfortunately, there was little to no outreach directed at the law enforcement community about the U visa program by the federal government after the law was passed.  Some police departments and prosecutors have responded by creating a single point-of-contact for all U visa certifications, which has streamlined the process for everyone. On the other hand, I have also encountered some organizations that have become frustrated with the influx of applications and have created blanket “no U visa certification” policies.  Still, others have created their own sets of rules about who qualifies. For instance, a couple of law enforcement agencies I have worked with have imposed their own statutes of limitations, limiting U visa certifications to cases that were closed only within the last 1-2 years.  This is extraordinarily frustrating for applicants and practitioners, as it creates barriers to the U visa that were neither contemplated nor intended by Congress.

So, what are some strategies immigration attorneys can use if they encounter resistance from the law enforcement community? I have found that this three-pronged approach is most efficient and the most likely to lead to organization-wide changes in policy:

  1. Make them understand that the U visa can be a great tool to enhance law enforcement efficacy. Some individuals in the law enforcement community see U visa certifications as nothing more than a burden on their already-busy schedules.  They also may have ideas about the undocumented immigrant communities in their area and believe that they are not they types of people they want to go out of their way to help.  If this is the case, talk to the head of the law enforcement agency you’re dealing with about the fact that one of the main objectives of this law is to increase the presence of law enforcement in immigrant communities, and to reduce fear of the police among people who may be terrified to report crime due to their immigration status.  It’s not uncommon for victims of serious crimes to fail to report their victimization and decline to provide information to investigators because they believe that any contact with law enforcement officials will put them at risk of deportation. This is generally not true, and the attitude can create a huge obstacle for law enforcement. If the U visa is an option, it proves to people in these communities that the police are there to help and that all victims’ cooperation – not just those who are here legally – is important to stopping crime.
  1. Let them know that they are NOT approving U visas by signing the certifications. Occasionally, I have run into situations in which law enforcement agents have been afraid to sign certifications because they believed it was “out of their jurisdiction.” They mistakenly think that a signature on the I-918B will grant an applicant legal immigration status. This is not true. The certification is just the first small step of the U visa process, and the applicant must still provide extensive evidence that they suffered substantially as a result of the crime and are not otherwise barred from receiving the U visa due to criminal convictions, immigration violations, or a number of other grounds. USCIS makes the final decision on all U visa applications, and they routinely deny cases with properly-executed law enforcement certifications.
  1. Be nice, and be patient! This sounds simple, but it’s worth stating. Often, immigration practitioners come from a defense-oriented approach when dealing with law enforcement.  We are generally working on the side of people who have committed violations of the law in one way or another, and may tend to approach interactions with law enforcement in an adversarial manner. I have found that simply dealing with police and prosecutors with patience and an attitude of “we’re on the same team” can go a long way.  Immigration lawyers need to convince law enforcement agents that the U visa is all about protecting victims and promoting safe communities – the exact same goals of their own organizations. Also, be respectful of their time and understand that these can be burdensome on their schedules. It may be frustrating for clients to wait, but pushiness has never proven to be a good tactic for me.

If you are encountering resistance in your law enforcement certification process, feel free to contact us for an initial consultation.