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U-Visas Help Domestic Violence Victims Who Are Undocumented PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 25 October 2012 06:22

ALEX GARCIA/SFVS

Dr. Aurelio Enriquez Jr.

This is part 3 of a series on Domestic Violence (italics ends).The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol has explored these issues with Haven Hills, a domestic violence agency in the San Fernando Valley. This week, we cover Uvisas which give victims of certain crimes temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States for up to 4 years.

Untangling the coils that cause people to batter can be complex.

For those who are dependent on their spouse or partners and have no means of employment, escaping abuse is extremely difficult. For those who are battered and undocumented, escaping abuse for them can pose greater hurdles, especially when their are children to consider or others to turn to.

One woman lived with her abuser for more than a decade before deciding things had to change.

"You live with the person for 11 years and you have his kids, and you get closed up in a circle where you can't escape," said the Arleta resident (who did not want to give out her or her family's name).

The verbal abuse was constant, she said, until the victim decided to get a restraining order against her partner.

He was gone for several months, but one day he returned to see his children. A discussion became an argument, and the woman's son intervened.

"I told him to go away," the young man said. "He made it as if he was about to leave, but then came back and went back to stab my mom."

The young man, then 19, got in the way and ended up getting stabbed in his stomach. His mother was also stabbed.

Neither was seriously hurt, but the experience prompted them to finally do something about the abuse. They received therapy and reported the incident to police. The case ended up in the courts.

But the woman and her son were apprehensive about pursuing the case, partly for fear of the abuser and also because of their undocumented status.

Getting A U-Visa

A year ago, while attending a domestic violence forum at Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional in Panorama City, they heard about U-Visas, an immigration program for victims of crime, including those who suffer domestic violence. They both applied for and have received work permits good for three years that allow them to remain and work in the United States legally.

After three years, they can apply for permanent residency.

"I feel stronger and ready to get ahead," the woman said.

"I think it's a great opportunity for us immigrants. I feel more relaxed that I can stay and get a job here," said her son.

Dr. Aurelio Enriquez Jr., chief executive officer of Professional Assessment and Treatment Services, a Van Nuys-based center that provides therapy services to victims of crime, said domestic abuse hurts not only the person receiving the abuse, but everyone around them.

"It hurts the entire family," he said.

The Process

While there's no time limit on when to apply for U-Visas after the abuse or crime occurred, Gloria Saucedo, president of Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, urged the victims of crime to do it as quickly as possibly. "Don't be afraid," she stressed.

"Victims should seek help right away. The faster you do it, the faster you will get the roll going."

She said victims must document the crimes, including photos of injuries, police reports, and any other proof. In order to apply for the U-Visas, they also must get authorities to fill out a form supporting their claims, and they must cooperate with authorities to prosecute the crime.

It takes between six and 12 months for the work permit to be granted, said Esmeralda Chaidez, director of the Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional office in Sylmar that works with these types of applications.

And the entire process can be done without the abuser's knowledge. "All the documents are sent to the office, and not the homes," said Chaidez, adding it allows people still in a relationship with the abuser to apply for the program without the aggressor knowing about it.

The Cost

Applying for a U-Visa costs $585, but the petitioner can apply for a fee waiver if they don't have the means to pay for it.

However, Saucedo warned against trying to take advantage of the U-Visa program.

"If (the crime or the abuse is not true), don't apply because that kind of fraud only hurts true victims," she said.

Next week: The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol continues the conversation with Haven Hills and explores the issue of why people batter with the Association of Batterers Intervention Programs.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 25 October 2012 06:27