The U visa program has, as of January 1, 2018, provided more than 350,000 aliens (most of whom were previously in illegal status) with substantial immigration benefits on the grounds that they were crime victims helping law enforcement agencies, are expected to do so in the future, or are related to a victim in one of those two categories.
The number includes aliens in various stages of the U visa program and comes from various USCIS data sets.
There has been virtually nothing written about this amnesty-by-accident program, as we described it in a recent posting, compared to the widely discussed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has a little over twice as many beneficiaries (approaching 800,000).
The disparate levels of attention are even more striking when one realizes that the U program is much more generous than DACA, with about 17,000 of the U visa holders graduating into green card status each year. Typically, an applicant for the U visa gets a four-year work permit and then progresses into green card status. Routinely, the annual ceiling of 10,000 visas a year for the victims is utilized. In addition, about 7,000 of their family members get the cards; no ceiling applies to them. There is no progression to green card status in DACA, as it is now constituted.
According to USCIS, the U visa legislation "[W]as intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes."
So we have handsomely rewarded 350,000 aliens for enlisting, if you will, in the war on crime. This is a group that is larger by 90,000 than the entire army of France. But what has the U-Visa army done for law enforcement?
My strong suspicions are: 1) no one knows; and 2) the Trump administration is in a perfect position to find out.
My worry — and maybe I am dead wrong — is that many of the 350,000 grants have done little when it comes to convictions, jail terms, and (since a lot of it involves other illegal aliens) deportations.
The Proposed Research. In order to get a measure of the utility of the U visas, I suggest a detailed study of a sample of 500 or 1,000 of the cases generated in the year 2015. The timing is such that it gives the criminal justice more than two full years to work through its processes while not being so far in the past as to test memories. Maybe the right year would be 2014 — the program has been in use since 2008.
USCIS would run a random selection of the cases approved in the year in question. Then it would seek, from cooperating entities, these kinds of information:
- From DHS: filings for work permits, fee waivers, and the (probably unusual) deportations;
- From the law enforcement agencies that endorsed the U petitions: arrest, indictment, and sentencing data on the alleged criminals, if any; subsequent arrest data on the U visa holders, if any; and data on not only the level of cooperation of the victims with the system, but also information on the utility of that cooperation; (some victims might be very helpful while adding nothing useful to the process);
- From the visa-holding families, probably from field interviews, their view of the criminal justice process in their cases, their earned incomes, their use of welfare programs, their education and work histories, and their income tax filings; and
- To test these answers from the families, checks with FBI and PACER data sets, along with those of IRS and the SNAP (i.e., food stamp) program.
How many jail sentences are we getting in exchange for the expenditure of 350,000 visas? It might be well under 50,000.
The study would add a badly needed factor in the conversation about these visas. To what extent does this partial (and accidental) amnesty actually help law enforcement?
The collected data would give DHS and Congress the kind of full picture that is needed as changes are weighed in the U visa program.