U Visa Applications Spike in California

Across the United States, immigration officials have noticed a significant increase in the number of U visa applications. The Oakland Police Department in Oakland, California, processed 502 applications in 2011, which is a mind-blowing jump from the three applications processed in 2007, according to a recent NBC Bay Area news article.

The U visa, or U nonimmigrant status, was created in 2000 under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Designated for non-citizen victims of crime who are willing to assist local law enforcement officials in the prosecution of their case, the U visa strengthens police efforts to solve cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, trafficking of aliens and other crimes, according to USCIS.

When the visa is awarded, the individual receives a work permit and will be eligible to apply for permanent residency after four years. While immigration rights advocates are very happy with the program, authorities say there is still a problem breaking down the barriers of victims who are hesitant to seek help after a crime.

“We offer U visas as a way to assure them that they don’t have to have any fear of us trying to get them deported out of the country,” Johnny Davis, Oakland police captain, told the source. “We want to help them solve their crimes.”

The Oakland Police Department has experienced decreasing staff numbers, but officials here have expanded the resources for the U visa program because they believe it builds crucial trust with the community. If undocumented immigrants do not feel safe coming forward, criminals will walk free and continue to cause problems for local residents, the source reported.

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