WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) today announced that they introduced the Immigrant Witness and Victim Protection Act (H.R. 5058).
The bill lifts arbitrary caps on the number of “U” visas available for undocumented immigrant witnesses and victims of violent crimes who cooperate with law enforcement. The bill also prevents “U” visa applicants and “T” visa human trafficking victim applicants, from being detained or deported prior to obtaining visas Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protections. Finally, the bill allows applicants to receive work authorization permits within limited timelines.
“As a former prosecutor, I know how critical U and T visa protections are to law enforcement and immigrant communities,” said Congressman Panetta. “Non-citizen victims and witnesses daring to come forward to support our criminal justice system deserve safeguarding. This bill promotes victims’ safety and encourages their continued participation in our communities.”
“The best thing we can do for the safety of our communities is make sure that trust exists between law enforcement and all community members—regardless of immigration status. By lifting the arbitrary cap on U Visas, we’re ensuring that all people feel safe coming forward to report a crime without fear of deportation,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “This issue spans beyond immigration into effective law enforcement and the well-being of communities everywhere. As someone who has spent my life working on immigration issues, including U Visas, I know the Immigrant Witness and Victim Protection Act will help bridge the divide between officers and victims, ensuring that fear of speaking out never stands in the way of justice.”
As of December 2017, over 110,000 U visa applications were pending review by the Department of Homeland Security. Under current law, only 10,000 visas can be assigned each year. According to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency is adjudicating U Visa petitions filed in 2014. This backlog hinders law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes and protect our communities.