Controversial visas creating a stir in Congress

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on May 9, 2012 at 10:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 9 at 10:17 PM

When it comes to childhood, Enrique Garcia is bound to have it better than his mom, Brenda.

She was sexually abused by a family friend when she was eight years old. As an illegal immigrant, she said nothing, fearing her family would be deported.

"As an immigrant, I felt, 'Who's going to help me?'" she said. "You feel isolated. No one is willing to help you out."

For three years, she kept her silence before complaining to police.

In exchange for her cooperation in her case, Dallas police recommended Garcia for a U-Visa, putting her on the path to citizenship.

A U-Visa is a little-known law enforcement tool that encourages victims in the U.S. illegally to cooperate with police investigations.

Right now, it's one of the reasons Congress is struggling to pass the Violence Against Women Act.

Carol Jablonski is a volunteer attorney with the Human Rights Initiative in Dallas.

"It isn't an amnesty program," Jablonski said. "It isn't an easy way to get status in the United States."

But it is a lightning rod in Congress.

Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn said he supports U-Visa, but wants changes to prevent fraud — for example, closing the single, centralized office that handles all applications to make more local decisions.

Jablonski disagrees.

"[Those at the central office] understand what to look for; they have been trained; they are professionals," she said. "They know what to ask for more information, and they seem to adjudicate these things on a very even-handed basis."

As for Garcia, she hopes others will still have the opportunity she had.

"I took a stand against abuse, and plus I kind of feel like I took a stand for most immigrant children who go through this," Garcia said.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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