Washington and Lee University School of Law

Washington and Lee University School of Law

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Ins and Outs of the U Visa

Kathy Pritts, a rising 2L from Oakland, MD, is interning with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), Inc., a non-profit law firm in Ohio.

Although a large part of my work as a member of the Migrant Farmworker program at ABLE involves interaction with, as well as research for, our farmworker clients, I have also been involved with immigration cases for non-farmworkers. These cases include applications for U visas, which are given to immigrants who have been the victims of certain specific crimes, including rape, trafficking, domestic violence, and kidnapping. The majority of U visa applicants who come to our office for assistance have been victims of domestic violence. These applicants must submit affidavits and other evidence documenting the abuse. Part of my job involves interviewing these clients about the domestic violence they endured, as well as collecting the various documents necessary to complete the visa application. This is often a very emotional and difficult process for our clients, and the immigration system is not always friendly to their needs.
For instance, one step of the application process requires a valid passport from the applicant’s country of origin. This presents an obstacle if the U visa is based on child abuse, as the abusive parent may refuse to cooperate in obtaining a passport for the child. Such complications, though not insurmountable, provide an added level of stress and frustration to an already difficult process for our clients. They also slow down the visa application, which is particularly problematic as applicants typically do not receive employment authorization until their visa petition has been approved.
Another difficulty that U visa applicants face is the fact that they must submit a certification that they were, are, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime upon which their visa application is based. This document must be signed by a local, state, or federal government official. These officials are sometimes hesitant to sign such statements. The U visa is a fairly new method of obtaining legal immigration status (it was first used in 2007), and law enforcement officials are sometimes unfamiliar with the process. One obstacle which we have encountered is that these officials may believe that they are being asked to sign a statement that a crime actually occurred; in reality, the statement merely establishes that the applicant was helpful in investigating a possible crime. For this and other reasons, it often requires perseverance in order to obtain such certification for our clients.
These issues, as well as other difficulties which are often encountered during a U visa application, require patience and sometimes creativity on the part of the legal advocate. I have enjoyed learning about some of the nuances of the U visa, as well as some practical ways to minimize the complications which inevitably arise during the application process.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Third World in the First World

Kathy Pritts, a rising 2L from Oakland, MD, is interning with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), Inc., a non-profit law firm in Ohio.

My first six weeks of work with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) have been both eye-opening and saddening. Many of Ohio’s migrant farmworkers – nearly all of whom are Hispanic – travel thousands of miles for the opportunity to perform backbreaking labor. When they finally arrive at their worksite, they often are not given the hours or wages which they were promised. Once in the fields, many crewleaders refuse to provide portable toilets or cool drinking water, resulting in many health problems for the workers. They are also at a high risk for pesticide-related illnesses and heat stroke.

The workers live in over-crowded, dilapidated housing. Bedbug infestations are common, and trash is often scattered throughout the camps. Indoor bathrooms are a luxury – rudimentary outhouses are the norm. With rising summer temperatures, these facilities become more and more noxious.

A significant barrier to our work is that, despite these labor and housing violations, many people are afraid to complain about the conditions in which they work and live. Many do not have immigration documents, and fear arrest or deportation. They are often targeted by the police, and have described many incidents of racial profiling.

Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement, permitting these law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. This controversial provision has been used in Butler County, Ohio, where the sheriff’s office has been given the authority to detain undocumented persons and put them into removal proceedings. This has heightened the already-existing fear present among immigrant communities, making them even less likely to complain of unfair treatment.

My most recent assignment involved co-writing a memo proposing changes to Ohio legislation regulating the housing provided to migrant farmworkers. It was somewhat unreal to suggest changes requiring what most would consider to be extremely basic sanitation and safety provisions. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is deeply saddening that so many people work and live in such wretched conditions, surrounded by hostility and racism within the surrounding communities.

However, it is comforting to know that there are those who have dedicated their careers to serving this often-forgotten group of people. I am humbled by the dedication of the legal advocates with whom I work, and I hope that I too will have the opportunity to use my education to give a voice to the voiceless.