There's a special visa that allows illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. longer that some say could be resulting in dishonest applications.
According to WSOC-TV, people could be staging fake crimes to pose as a victim and be awarded what's called a U visa.
U nonimmigrant status visas are given to "victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse," U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stated on its website. The purpose of such visas, which were passed in 2000, are to allow the victim to remain in the U.S. to help law enforcement and officials with investigations or prosecution.
The U.S. will only issue 10,000 U visas each year, but it doesn't cap visas that are extended to family members of the principal applicant.
WSOC reported that even if a visa isn't granted, the application itself can stop deportation proceedings until the situation is resolved. In the Charlotte, North Carolina, area alone this has resulted in a flood of more than 700 U visa applications this year. Some of these applications might be legitimate, some might not.
Here's an example of the latter:
Take the case of Oscar Beltran, for example. In May he told police two men approached him in a parking lot on Kilborne Drive, hit him in the forehead with a gun and stole $6,000.
But later, police determined that Beltran had staged the robbery -- they say in court papers -- in order to get a U-Visa because he had an upcoming immigration hearing.
Charlotte-area immigration attorney George Miller told the news station that he has come across cases he thought might include fraudulent applications and declined to work with them.
“I have seen some that I've felt like possibly fraud was involved and I wasn't going to be involved with it and I told the people so," Miller said.
Watch WSOC-TV's report about the U-visa and screening process:
U visa fraud is by no means unique to North Carolina. But some worry that just the idea of possible U visa fraud will also work against the system in court. The San Francisco Weekly in a large piece about the visas published in 2011 reported attorney's saying that U visa applications have been used by defense attorneys in court as a means to try and discredit the prosecution.
"If defense attorneys make that decision [to mention the U visa in court], there may be more legislation needed to cut off their ability to do that," D.C.-based attorney Leslye Orloff told the newspaper at the time.
Sharon Rummery with USCIS told the Weekly that it doesn't report rejected U-visa applications to enforcement officers.
A report from the Department of Homeland Security stated that it and USCIS takes "fraud and abuse of the U visa program seriously."
"If USCIS suspects fraud in a U visa petition, USCIS may request further evidence from the petitioner and may also reach out to the law enforcement agency for further information. USCIS also has a dedicated unit whose sole purpose is to target and identify fraudulent immigration applications," the report stated. "The Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) unit of USCIS conducts investigations of cases that appear fraudulent and works with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies when fraud or abuse is discovered."
The report also noted that U visa recipients generally cannot get a green card unless it is confirmed he or she cooperated with investigations and prosecutions.
Local police also told WSOC that while U visa fraud can occur, it believes it's not prevalent thanks to safeguards in the system.
According to USCIS, it has issued the maximum number of U visas since 2008.
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