The U visa program was created by Congress in 2000 to encourage immigrants in the country illegally to report crimes without fear of deportation and to help law enforcement crack down on violent crime. While the number of visas is capped at 10,000 per year, about 26,000 people applied in the 2014 fiscal year. The backlog in applications likely will continue to grow, in part thanks to the California law. Once the law takes effect in January, agencies will need to review requests in 90 days and report on how many they sign to the state, which hopefully will help ensure compliance even though no penalty was written into the law. The new measure will impact certain counties more than others based on how compliant those areas currently are. For example in Oakland, California, police approved nearly all of the 1,600 requests received in 2014 according to department statistics, so the new measure won’t likely have any material change to U-Visa processing in Oakland. On the flip side would be in Kern County, where only 5 of the 200 requests were signed there, and those 5 were onlywhere the immigrants were needed as witnesses in a court case. Going forward the new measure should help get more of those requests approved.
Here is a quick summary of some other bills passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown:
— HEALTH CARE: A new law extends state-subsidized health care coverage to children from low-income families who are in the country illegally. The measure is expected to help 170,000 children.
— UNACCOMPANIED CHILDREN: This measure lets state courts appoint guardians up to age 21for immigrants applying to a federal government program for children abused or abandoned by their parents. The law is expected to enable more immigrant children who arrived on the border alone apply for legal status.
— OPPOSES DISCRIMINATION: A measure bans discrimination by businesses against people based on their immigration status, citizenship or languages spoken.
— CRIMINAL CASES: This measure requires defense lawyers to warn immigrants facing criminal charges of the immigration consequences of their case and prosecutors to consider these consequences as a factor in plea negotiations.