For Undocumented Pulse Shooting Victims and Their Families, U Visas May Provide Some Relief

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Only five days have passed since 29-year-old Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse – a gay nightclub in Orlando – during a Latino-themed night. With 49 dead and an additional 53 wounded, the world has banded together to strike down homophobia and offer support for the victims. As details emerge, authorities and news outlets have confirmed that a majority of the victims – a staggering 90 percent – were of Latino descent. The attack simultaneously devastated two minority communities in Orlando and around the world.

Beyond the immense pain this senseless massacre has caused, it’s also created palpable effects for three undocumented immigrants who happened to be at Pulse on Sunday and their families. In Mexico, a grieving mother has the added burden of trying to find a way of bringing her son back home. On Univision, she made an emotional plea for financial assistance. “Please help us,” she said through tears. “Please support us. We’re humble.”

Meanwhile, the other two men face insurmountable hospital bills, and worry their status will be publicized in the wake of a harrowing tragedy. It’s an unfair strain on anyone, especially victims of a crime. At the very least, they can seek protections in the form of a U visa – a system put in place in 2000. Described as a visa “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” by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, victims of the Pulse shooting are able to petition for this specific immigration status. It lasts for a total of four years, though it can be extended. And it can also cover the petitioner’s immediate family. The visa is dependent on their cooperation with law enforcement. Additionally, after three years recipients can apply for permanent residency in the U.S.

“There are a wide range of scenarios that make a person qualified for this, from being kidnapped to experiencing the murder of a loved one. If a person survived this tragedy, it entitles them to a U visa because they are not a citizen and they experienced a violent crime,” Pamela Denzel, client program director of Immigration Equality, told Rewire. “We’re not doing anything we don’t already do; we’re not creating services that didn’t already exist. This isn’t a special project. The individuals and their families impacted by this horrific tragedy aren’t getting any special treatment or cutting the line; they are eligible for something that was already established many years ago.”

Immigration Equality, a New York-based organization known for assisting the LGBTQ+ and HIV communities, has offered to assist Pulse victims with their U visa applications through their national hotline. The organization has also extended their resources to help obtain humanitarian parole, which can temporarily allow family members in other countries enter the U.S.

Obtaining a U-visa won’t be a quick fix. But for Victor – an undocumented Salvadoran immigrant whose identity Fusion concealed to protect him – it can alleviate his fear of deportation and make him eligible for the healthcare marketplace and Medicaid. Currently, he doesn’t know how he’ll pay his soaring medical bills, and because he’s recovering, he’s also unsure when he’ll be able to return to work. For someone who’s essentially on his own – Victor’s family doesn’t live in the U.S. – it’s daunting.

Then, there’s initiatives like and crowd-funded donations by Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group, who are aiding all Pulse victims whether undocumented or not. “Victimization knows no status,” said Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.