To tackle the unprecedented backlog of applications for humanitarian relief, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created the Humanitarian, Adjustment, Removing Conditions, and Travel Documents (HART) Service Center which will be comprised of a dedicated team of specially trained staff responsible for adjudicating VAWA self-petitions (I-360), issuing U visa bona fide determinations (I-918), and reunification of refugees and asylees with their family members (I-730).
Those of us who work with immigrant survivors everyday hope this change will mean our clients receive fairer decisions more quickly.
This crucial step by USCIS recognizes that the current state of backlogs results in survivors of sexual violence – even those who experienced violence right here in the U.S. and at the hands of a U.S. citizen – could end up spending years waiting in limbo.
The stakes are very high: the longer an applicant waits, the longer they are at risk of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and further exploitation or abuse. Breaking the cycle of violence means being on a path to healing and stability, which is often impossible for survivors who experience these stressors. For example, Tahirih has had clients feel they have no option but to return to abuse or end up in situations where they have been trafficked because their cases were delayed.
Put simply, the whole purpose of humanitarian relief – to support those who have been harmed – is undermined when backlogs continue unabated.
For this new effort to be a success it is vital that it be properly funded and that USCIS invests in significant training for the officer corps at this dedicated service center. Officers need to hear not only from each other but from experts at organizations serving survivors directly, and – ideally – from survivor advocates themselves.
Not only will this benefit the survivors experiencing stress and trauma waiting for their decisions but also taxpayers who foot the bill when decisions are made poorly.
We remain cautiously optimistic, as the promise of this new service center could be undermined if experts are not consulted regularly and invited to provide updates, data, and training. We are eager to engage with those leading the effort at the HART Service Center to provide opportunities for information exchange such as liaison meetings with a focus on problem-solving, data transparency, and dialogue.
The Tahirih Justice Center is grateful to USCIS for this effort and eager to be a partner in ensuring the HART Service Center succeeds in its mission and expands to serve even more survivors and individuals seeking humanitarian relief in the future.