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New policy impacts domestic violence survivors in the U.S. illegally

Under a new policy, those who apply for a U Visa and are denied could be deported. Some think that could mean victims of domestic violence less likely to come forward to seek help.

DENVER — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is issuing a new rule that has some experts worried it could make domestic violence victims less likely to get help.

The policy is aimed at people with U nonimmigrant status or U Visas, which are set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (including the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act) in October 2000.

But now, anyone who applies for a U-visa and gets denied could be deported if they are unable to fall back on another immigration status.

It’s a measure one non-profit thinks will impact the women they help.

"It's tough telling them that they are a protected group when you have others telling them that they're not,” Angela Cesena said. "It's heartbreaking."

Cesena is a case manager for Latina Safehouse, a nonprofit that works with domestic violence survivors that primarily speak Spanish -- and who have come to the United States illegally.

"With our women there's an added layer of variables and factors that play a role with their domestic violence," she said. "The threat of deportation is real and so they'll reach out to us as a last resort."

Cesena now fears this new policy crackdown that goes into effect Nov. 19 will stop these women from reaching out for any help.

"There's added fear and they don't want to come forward and ask for fear anymore because whether they do or don't ask for help there's always going to be that fear of deportation either from the state of their offender," Cesena said.

Alyssa Reed is an immigration attorney who said she has the same worry.

"This makes my job harder because I'm not able to assure a victim of a crime that if we're going to apply for this they’re going to be safe or their family is going to be safe,” she said

Reed said this isn't how the U Visa is supposed to work.

"These remedies were created to help victims of crime and the most vulnerable among us not only to help them, but it's to help all of us, because if crime victims are afraid to report crime that makes everyone more unsafe," she said.

It typically takes around five years to get a U Visa approved. Reed estimated about 100,000 to 200,000 U Visas are pending right now and 25 percent will get denied.

"Victims I don't think are going to want to come forward because they're risking their whole lives here, and their whole family's lives here," Reed said.

A risk Cesena hopes Latinas facing domestic violence know, she is willing to take with them.

"It's their life, it's their livelihood,” she said. "They are not alone."

USCIS is expected to announce how it will implement the new policy on Thursday.