family law; immigration law; domestic violence


Undocumented intimate partner violence survivors living in the UnitedStates have limited options for immigration relief. One of the only avenuesopen to them is the U Visa: a nonimmigrant visa established by the BatteredImmigrant Women Protection Act of 2000. To apply for a U Visa, a survivormust prove to immigration authorities that she was the victim of a crime;suffered substantial abuse; and was, is,or is likely to be helpful in theinvestigation of her abuser. The statute requires that all U Visa applicationsbe certified by an appropriate officialwho testifies to the applicant’shelpfulness with the investigation. This certification is a tremendous obstaclefor survivors: agencies are under nolegal obligation to provide thesecertifications, the procedure to obtainthem is often complicated and timeconsuming, and the decision-makingprocess is opaque. Moreover, manyundocumented survivors fear involvement with the criminal courts or policeout of fear of their abusers and deportation.In response, survivor advocates approach certification creatively and seekcertification from less obvious authorities. Undocumented survivors aremore likely to be involved in family court proceedings—seeking orders ofprotection from, or adjudicating custody and visitation disputes with, theirabusers—than criminal proceedings. Advocates have likewise turned tofamily courts to certify U Visa applications. Family courts are unclear onwhether they are authorized to certifythese applications and are oftenreluctant to make a final decision.This Note proposes that family courts are empowered by statutorylanguage and history to certify U Visa applications for undocumentedsurvivors. After a textual and legalprocess analysis of the statutoryprovisions regarding U Visa certification, this Note proposes guidelines for practitioners seeking U Visa certification from a family court and for familycourt judges ruling on these applications.

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