Washington, D.C. – As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) today introduced the “Protect Victims of Crime Act” – legislation to increase the yearly cap on the U visa program, created to protect victims of crime, from 10,000 to 40,000. This will enable more survivors of serious crimes, like domestic abuse or sexual assault, to come forward without fear of deportation to help law enforcement investigate or prosecute criminals.

“We must do everything we can to help survivors of domestic abuse and victims of other serious crimes in finding safe haven, while aiding law enforcement in getting criminals off the street,” said Congresswoman Brownley. “Unfortunately, there are too many heartbreaking stories of individuals who want to report their abuser to the police or speak up about a crime, but are afraid that doing so could result in their own deportation. This legislation will enable more victims and witnesses of crimes to safely come forward.”

One individual who would benefit from this bill is Maria, a farmworker who lives in Oxnard, California. In 2014, she was a victim of domestic violence. Maria filed the appropriate police reports, and with her children, was able to leave her abuser. At the same time, she applied for a U visa with the help of a community-based organization. Three years later, she is still waiting for her application to be processed. She states that with each passing day, she is losing hope that she will be able to obtain a U visa and live fear-free in Ventura County.

The U visa was originally created as part of the bipartisan Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in 2000. The victim of a qualifying criminal activity – which includes domestic violence and sexual assault – who aids law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the crime may apply for the visa. The visa is valid for four years, and U visa holders can eventually apply for legal permanent residency.

Current law caps U visas at 10,000 each year. In fiscal year 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 35,044 petitions for the 10,000 visas available. The cap was reached three months into the fiscal year on January 4, 2016. As of June 2017, 103,045 victims and witnesses to crimes were still waiting for approval because of the cap. A 2011 surveyfound that 46 percent of U visa recipients were victims of domestic violence.

Brownley’s bill is cosponsored by Representatives Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Norma Torres (D-CA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). It is also supported by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Casa de Esperanza, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, and California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

“Undocumented victims of gender-based violence are among the most vulnerable, and the mechanisms we have to help them are often insufficient to help them come out of the shadows and report to law enforcement,” said Ruth Glenn, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “We stand with Representative Brownley in her efforts to provide further protections and supports for survivors of violence who seek safety by increasing the number of U-Visas available annually to reflect the actual need.”

“The U visa provides essential protections for survivors of domestic violence and other crimes, and the current near decade-long backlog to receive a visa is unconscionable,” said Kathy Moore, Executive Director of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. “By increasing the annual cap, the Protect Victims of Crime Act will provide more survivors with relief from fear of deportation and a safe and stable foundation for themselves and their families.”

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