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This article was originally published on August 05, 2009.

Tahirih Justice Center is thrilled to announce a milestone in the protection of immigrant women and girls fleeing violence. Twelve courageous Tahirih clients are among the first in the nation to be granted U visas.

The U visa was created in 2000 to reduce crime and protect immigrant victims. These are Tahirih’s first approvals after nine years of government delay. Throughout the country, approximately 14,000 immigrants continue to wait for justice, over 100 of whom Tahirih represents.

The first of Tahirih’s U visa approvals was issued for an Indian woman who left her family in India to be with her new husband in the United States.

Tahirih’s client married her husband, a prominent doctor, in December 2004. She arrived in the United States the next month on an H4 visa, an immigration status that made her entirely dependent on her husband. Within four hours of her arrival, he began abusing her. He demanded sex, and when she demurred, he attacked her, punching her ears repeatedly and laughing as he pushed her off the bed. On another occasion, he pushed her against the window of their speeding car, rupturing the blood vessels in her eye. Violence came and went when his fancy struck. Deprived of food and sleep, her will was paralyzed and her self-confidence shattered. Fortunately, after five long months of brutality, she was able to escape. She filed a criminal complaint against her husband and he was charged with assault and domestic violence.

Many other women and girls in the United States like this client—victims of crimes like domestic violence, rape, incest, and sexual assault—are eligible for the U visa, which is available to victims who cooperate with law enforcement.

When Tahirih’s client approached Tahirih for help in 2005, the U visa was not yet available. Although the visa was created by Congress as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, regulations governing it had not yet been put into place. Victims of crime could apply only for deferred action, a temporary form of immigration relief. She applied for and was granted deferred action status, but her legal status was still impermanent, leaving her perpetually anxious about her ability to remain in the United States and unable to travel in and out of the country to see her family.

The U visa regulations were published in September 2007, and Tahirih’s client was required to resubmit her application, which she did in January of 2008. Over a year and a half later, her U visa was finally granted, giving her the stability she had long sought.

The U visa is a vital legal protection because immigrant women and girls face cultural obstacles that magnify the difficulty of fleeing violence. These include factors such as language barriers, cultural stigmas on reporting abuse, or not having work authorization to be able to support themselves and their families. They often face the isolation of not having a support network of friends or family, are usually unaware of their rights, and may be threatened by their abuser with arrest or deportation if they speak out. These obstacles are compounded with the fear that reporting abuse to the police could lead to deportation.

Since the inception of the U visa, Tahirih has pioneered its use and was the first organization in the Washington, DC metropolitan area to apply for U visa interim relief. Tahirih has conducted numerous trainings in the community to educate groups working with immigrant victims of crime on the protections available, including law enforcement, attorneys, victim/witness advocates, shelter employees, and medical personnel. Furthermore, Tahirih has submitted comments to the Department of Homeland Security on U visa regulations to address areas of continued concern.

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