Immigration Issues for Social Workers
Social workers are often on the front lines of helping people in emergencies, and in communities like San Diego many of the people social workers help are immigrants. Some of these immigrants are lawful permanent residents (“green card holders”) and others have no legal status (“undocumented immigrants”). This article will describe two forms of immigration relief social workers should be aware of when working with these populations so they can refer clients to appropriate legal services.
The first form of relief comes from a federal law called the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA for short. This law was passed to help immigrants who are the victims of domestic abuse. The law was passed in part to stop U.S. citizens from abusing their immigrant spouses and threatening to have them deported if the spouses report the abuse. If eligible, abused immigrants can obtain green cards or maintain their current ones without the assistance of their U.S. citizen spouses. Despite the law’s name, it applies to men and women and both heterosexual and homosexual marriages.
The second form of relief is called the U-Visa. It is similar to VAWA, but it is broader in that it does not focus solely on victims of domestic abuse. It provides legal status to victims of crimes, including domestic violence, who help prosecute the criminal. Its purpose is similar to VAWA in that it seeks to encourage victims to report crime and cooperate with the police and prosecutor without fear of deportation.
Both of these laws are complicated, so do not try to advise or evaluate whether your client is eligible. Instead, if you think a client might be eligible, refer them to a legal nonprofit organization immediately (also tell them to take pictures of any bruises or signs of abuse ASAP). There are several organizations that help with these cases in San Diego, and most can be found through a quick Google search, but do not worry if you are unsure about which organization to start with. The organizations generally know each other and can find the appropriate referral.
Drew A. Lautemann, Esq.
Supervising Attorney – City Heights Community Law Project
Program Manager – Consensus Organizing Center
 This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. If you or anyone you know has a legal issue, they should consult with a licensed attorney immediately.
 Some immigrants are naturalized citizens, but because they are generally treated the same as natural-born citizens, they are not the focus of this article.