All About U Visas, The Program That Encourages Undocumented Immigrants Like 21 Savage, Reports Crimes

Savage 21 Applied for U Visa
Photo Credit Screenshot Newsy.com

In 2000, Congress passed a resolution that created a U visa program as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Since then, undocumented immigrants living in the United States have been permitted to qualify and apply for a four-year visa that allows them and family members to stay in the United States, with the possibility of pursuing a Green Card before the U visa expires.

U Visa Savage 21
Photo Credit Screenshot Newsy.com

This visa is only open to residents who are victims or witnesses of certain crimes that take place in the United States or under U.S. law, such as domestic violence, fraud in foreign labor contracting, prostitution, trafficking, and stalking. Victims must be willing to assist law enforcement agents in the investigation. Up to 10,000 U visas are awarded each year. The U visa program encourages undocumented immigrants to come forward without fear of deportation in exchange for helping the United States crack down on crime.

U Visa Changes Under Trump Administration

Prior to immigration law reforms that have taken place since President Trump took office, U visa applicants had been permitted to stay in the United States while their applications were pending. As of now though, crime victims like 21 Savage are subject to deportation until their applications are approved, which could amount to years away from their U.S. homes due to the limits posed by the 10,000 annual U visa cap. (The cap applies only to victims; there is no limit to how many family members can also apply for U visas.) 21 Savage applied for the U visa in 2017 citing physical and mental distress from a 2013 shooting in which he was shot six times by gang members; his best friend was killed in the incident.

“If Trump is serious about deporting immigrants who commit crimes in our communities he should work with Congress to eliminate the U visa cap and otherwise strengthen the U visa program,” said Sara Ramey, executive director of the Migrant Center for Human Rights, and an opinion piece for The Hill. Ramey cited her experience working with victims of domestic violence who with their U.S. citizen children were able to escape domestic abuse through the U visa program. She pointed out that undocumented immigrants play an integral role in tracking down undocumented criminals that commit crimes in their communities.

NBC News reported last year on the case of Maria, an immigrant from Columbia who had overstayed a legal “fiancé” visa. Engaged to a U.S. citizen who became increasingly abusive to her and her son, she had become trapped as a victim of domestic violence. Though her fiancé at the time discouraged her from reporting his crimes by holding her legal status over her, she decided to go to the police. This act of bravery would have qualified her for a U visa — but immediately after testifying against her abuser in court, ICE agents took her and her older son into custody. There was some speculation that her ex-fiancé had been the one to report her to immigration as retaliation. Maria and her son were eventually released, and she has since applied for a U-Visa but may still be subject to deportation.

“If an individual is here illegally in this country, they’re always subject to arrest for that criminal violation,” said ICE deputy director Matthew Albence in an interview with NBC News, defending the decision of immigration authorities to detain Maria. He cited the agency’s compassion for both legal and undocumented victims, but nonetheless concluded, “We have a job to do.”

Chief Art Acevedo of the Houston Police Department questioned whether such enforcement efforts are actually hurting efforts to fight crime, suggesting that fear of deportation would discourage crime victims and witnesses from coming forward. “If you lose witnesses, everyone else’s crime goes up.”