How NYC Is Helping Immigrant Survivors Of Domestic Violence


Sandra, an undocumented immigrant, arrived in the United States in 2012 and has been in an abusive relationship for the last three years. After learning about resources for domestic violence survivors in New York City, Sandra finally sought help at an NYC Family Justice Center and learned about an immigration remedy called a U-visa. With the help of a Family Justice Center attorney, she submitted her application and received a temporary immigration status that allows her to receive benefits.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in a city of 3 million immigrants including many others like Sandra, we want to highlight some of the ways in which New York City and our community partners have worked together to address the needs of immigrant survivors of violence. Under the leadership of Mayor de Blasio, the City has prioritized developing resources for immigrant victims of crime, regardless of immigration status, because we know that doing so supports public safety and strengthens our communities.

As Commissioners of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) and the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence (OCDV), we have worked together to increase access to U and T visas. These federal immigration visas protect immigrant victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, and other serious crimes, who are helpful to a law enforcement investigation or prosecution. Each visa has several eligibility requirements and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, is the only agency with the authority to provide either immigration status.

Receiving a U or T visa can be life-changing for immigrant survivors of domestic violence because it protects them from deportation, and allows them to work lawfully in the U.S. and apply for many public benefits. These visas also strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute serious crimes. Immigrants can report abuse and work with law enforcement without the threat of deportation which too often keeps immigrants in the shadows.

Unfortunately, for many immigrants, navigating the process of applying for a U or T visa can be challenging. For U visas, victims must obtain a certification from a law enforcement agency confirming that the immigrant was a victim of a specific crime, has knowledge about the crime, and was, is, or likely to be helpful at any stage of the criminal justice process. After receiving law enforcement certification, the immigrant must then submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and wait for a response. If the application is approved, many immigrants are placed on a waitlist of up to three years before they are finally granted a visa.

While the City cannot change the federal immigration visa backlog, the de Blasio administration has set out to address challenges for victims in getting the certifications they need to start the U or T visa application process. In February 2016, Mayor de Blasio announced that the NYC Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) will serve as the first and only anti-discrimination agency in a major U.S. city to provide certifications for U and T visas. CCHR joins the list of certifiers in New York City which includes the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the Administration for Children’s Services and the District Attorney’s Offices in all five counties of New York City. MOIA and OCDV work with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to regularly convene these certifying agencies to participate in a working group aimed at improving coordination among certifying agencies and increasing communication with local advocates. In addition, the NYPD published guidelines for victims and advocates requesting U visa certifications, which includes allowing immigrants to submit requests in their preferred language, and has established processes to streamline and expedite its review process.

The City has also invested significantly in programs for immigrant victims of crime, like ActionNYC, which provides free, safe legal screenings to help immigrants learn about their eligibility for immigration programs like the U and T visas, and the Family Justice Centers, which provide criminal justice, civil legal, and social services all in one location for victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, and sex trafficking.

These accomplishments highlight the efforts of this administration to support immigrant survivors and help them to rebuild their lives. Immigrants help make New York City great and expanding access to services for all immigrants includes ensuring that we provide the support needed for immigrant survivors of violence to reach their fullest potential and contribute to the well-being of our communities.

Our offices have released a fact sheet outlining resources for immigrants who are crime victims. Get the fact sheet and more information about how to request U visa certification and T visa declarations at www.nyc.gov/immigrants. Learn more about the city’s resources for survivors of domestic violence at www.nyc.gov/domesticviolence.

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