By Danielle Fullam, Esq., Staff Attorney
The GLS Immigration Team represents vulnerable immigrant children and adults, who are survivors of assault, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and other serious crimes, to obtain legal immigration status in the United States. GLS often handles, among other forms of relief, U nonimmigrant status (often referred to as a “U visa”), T nonimmigrant status (often referred to as a “T visa”), Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).
U nonimmigrant status is a legal status available to undocumented victims of crime who cooperate with law enforcement in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of the crimes they suffered. While it is understandable that those without legal status in the U.S. may feel nervous to interact with law enforcement, reporting crimes and assisting law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys keeps everyone living in the U.S. safer. U nonimmigrant status is designed to encourage and reward victims who cooperate with law enforcement. At the outset of representation, GLS requests certification from law enforcement affirming clients’ cooperation in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of the crimes they suffered. Only victimization of certain crimes qualifies for relief; some examples of crime victimization that qualify for eligibility are sexual assault, rape, stalking, felony assault; kidnapping; abduction, blackmail, torture, hostage, and false imprisonment. Through interviewing clients, we create declarations so our clients can describe the crimes that occurred and the impact the crimes have had on them. We prepare all evidence and draft the legal arguments to show the basis for the client’s eligibility for relief. One challenge our clients experience in the process is the very long wait time for adjudication to obtain a U visa, which takes many years. Under beneficial new policies though, our clients will become eligible much sooner after the initial filing for work authorization, which enables them to work legally and stabilize their lives. Upon approval of the U visa, the survivor will be on a path to apply for legal permanent residency.
T nonimmigrant status is a form of immigration relief for victims of labor and commercial sex trafficking. Like eligibility for U visas, eligibility for a T visas encourages survivors to come forward and report their human trafficking victimization and cooperate with law enforcement to detect, investigate, and prosecute human trafficking; survivors may qualify for exemptions from cooperation due to age or trauma suffered. GLS assists T visa applicants in reporting their trafficking to law enforcement agencies and assists them in cooperating with reasonable requests from law enforcement if they choose to do so. We work with survivors to demonstrate that at the time they are applying for relief, they are still in the U.S. because of the trafficking. Perhaps the survivor has escaped the trafficker, but fears returning home because of a trafficker’s threats or perhaps the survivor is obtaining counseling and case management services in the U.S. to work through the trauma experienced. Survivors applying for a T visa must also demonstrate that they would suffer extreme hardship if they were to return to their home countries. T visa cases can be challenging because they often involve legal arguments to distinguish clients’ trafficking experiences from merely labor law violations. Additionally, it is common for the only piece of evidence in a T visa case to be the client’s declaration. Similar to the U visa approval, approval for a T visa puts the survivor on a path to apply for legal permanent residency.
Immigrant survivors of domestic violence may qualify to file a VAWA Self-Petition to obtain legal immigration status in the United States. Self-petitioners must have a familial relationship with a cruel or abusive U.S. Citizen or legal permanent resident. Eligible relationships include that of a spouse, child, or stepchild of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, and a parent or step parent of an abusive U.S. citizen. A VAWA Self Petition may be filed by qualifying survivors of any gender or age, and the purpose is to put the petition for eligibility for legal status into their own hands, so that they do not have to rely on an abusive family member to file their petition for legal status for them. Among the requirements for eligibility, the survivor must show that they suffered battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of their family member. A survivor must have resided with the family member at one point and demonstrate personal “good moral character.” Spouses need to demonstrate the marriage was entered into in good faith. GLS works closely with local domestic violence shelters to provide outreach and training, and to accept referrals for survivors in need of representation.
SIJS cases are for certain children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both of their parents. The first step in this type of case takes place in a state court, which has jurisdiction over custody matters pertaining to the child. GLS attorneys represent children in state court to provide evidence and obtain an order from the judge determining that the child was abused, abandoned, or neglected, that reunification with one or both parents is not viable, and that it is in the best interests of the child not to be returned to their home country. When the order is obtained, it is submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, along with the necessary documentation, supporting evidence, and legal argumentation. Depending on the availability of a visa and which country an applicant is from, sometimes an SIJS applicant can file for adjustment of status to legal permanent residency at the same time. In other cases, after several years elapse since the approval of the SIJ status, the child will become eligible to apply for adjustment of status to legal permanent residency.
While the process to become a Legal Permanent Resident, and eventually a U.S. Citizen, is a long one, clients can celebrate several benefits along the way, such as obtaining an employment authorization document and a driver’s license. Clients can also file for certain members of their families to receive derivative legal status. Applying for relief often involves recalling difficult or painful details about a client’s life. The GLS Immigration Unit takes care to practice trauma-informed, survivor-centered advocacy. The beautiful thing about these cases is that they often transform what was one of the worst experiences in a person’s life into an opportunity to live safely and securely in the United States.
To see if you are eligible for GLS assistance regarding an immigration issue, click here.
These questions and answers are provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice cannot be given without information about your specific situation.