Local Bar Associations Join PIRC to Help Immigrants Obtain U Visas

  • 9/28/2020
  • Lancaster Bar Association

The Lancaster County Bar Association, the York County Bar Association, and the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (“PIRC”) have joined forces to  assist undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime and seeking U Visas.

Criminals target communities of undocumented immigrants because they know that undocumented immigrants usually hesitate to cooperate with law enforcement investigations out of fear that doing so will disclose their status and subject them to potential deportation. Congress realized this decades ago and created a special immigration tool to assist law enforcement officials.

The U Visa is a temporary visa available to qualifying victims of certain violent crimes, frequently sexual assault and domestic violence, that provides a path to legal permanent residency and potentially American citizenship, even if the victim originally entered the U.S. illegally.

To qualify, the victim must obtain certification from high ranking law enforcement officials, prosecutors, or judges attesting that the victim substantially assisted the prosecution of the crime committed against them.

However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the government agency charged with processing U Visa applications, has virtually stopped processing those applications over the past three or so years. That has led to a huge backlog of applicants with meritorious applications who have held up their end of the bargain, but remain subject to deportation and lack authorization to work legally in the United States.

The Lancaster County Bar Association and the York County Bar Association, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (“PIRC”) have joined forces to try and remedy this situation. The bar associations have recruited volunteer attorneys to assist in filing federal  court actions challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s delays under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Mandamus Act.

The goal of these lawsuits is to compel the agency to issue decisions in cases of extreme delay. The bar associations are training the attorneys regarding this area of law and then matching them with PIRC’s indigent clients whose U Visa applications have been pending for more than three years. The goal is to file more than 30 such lawsuits over the next two months. This project could serve as a nationwide model for bar associations seeking to engage their members in high impact and interesting pro bono work.

This project is rolling out on September 28, 2020

  • VISA processing