USCIS Reaches 10,000 U-Visa Limit

| Wed Sep. 21, 2011 2:27 PM EDT

Last week I wrote about Rep. Lamar Smith's HALT Act, which would limit the use of the deferred action in immigration cases, thus forcing the Obama administration to deport undocumented victims of domestic violence. A House staffer defending the bill insisted that domestic violence victims would be unaffected since the bill didn't limit U-visas, the special visas available to undocumented crime victims who cooperate with the authorities. According to the staffer, reaching the 10,000 U-visa cap was a "hypothetical" situation no one should worry about.

On Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the 10,000 U Visa cap had been reached: 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), marking a significant milestone in its efforts to provide relief to victims of crimes, has for the second straight year approved 10,000 petitions for U nonimmigrant status, also referred to as the U-visa.

On an annual basis, 10,000 U-visas are set aside for victims of crime who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to help law enforcement authorities investigate or prosecute crime.

You read that right—far from being a "hypothetical," this is the second year in a row that the U-visa cap has been reached. Unauthorized immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can nevertheless stay in the country if their case is compelling, and many will, thanks to the administration's authority to use deferred action to exercise discretion in deportations. If the HALT Act were in force, those applying for relief now that the cap has been reached would be out of luck. 

There's no minimizing the very real human consequences of Obama deporting more than a million undocumented immigrants, most of whom have no criminal record. But the president's approach amounts to a humane alternative to what Congressional Republicans would do if they could.