"When immigrant women feel that coming forward about a crime could get them deported, they keep silent," said Mallika Dutt, a women's advocate and founder of an organization called Breakthrough.
Some cops, like the leadership in the Oakland Police Department (ODP), agree that it has helped them to build a healthier culture of reporting crimes in undocumented communities, where many offenses go unreported.
"We offer U visas as a way to assure them that they don't have to have any fear of us trying to get them deported out of the country," Capt. Johnny Davis of the OPD told The Bay Citizen. "We want to help them solve their crimes."
But another big problem with the visa, according to advocates, is that there simply aren't enough to go around.
Every year exactly 10,000 of these visas are given out. Most of the recipients are women, the majority are from Latin America, and the bulk of the cases involve domestic abuse, Bowyer says. The program, which was put in place in 2000, has hit its cap for three consecutive years. In 2010, there were 10,742 applicants, in 2011, there were 16,768, and in 2012, there were 24,788 -- more than twice the number of spots available. .
A provision to raise the U visa cap to 15,000 in the Violence Against Women Act was opposed last year by a handful of House Republicans who argued that the system is susceptible to fraud and that the bill violated a technical congressional rule, called a "blue slip." In short, House Republican leaders said bills that generate revenue need to originate in the House and because the visas impose a fee on applicants, no new visas could be introduced.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has led the fight to reauthorize VAWA, finally caved to Republican pressure, and nixed the provision which would increase the number of U visas.
"There's no blue slip question here," he told reporters at a VAWA press conference earlier this month. "So if [the U visa piece] is not there, let's pass all the rest of it. If I can get 90 to 95 percent of what I want, I'll take that and then fight for the other 5 percent."
The debate over U visas has been largely divorced from the larger debate over comprehensive immigration reform currently happening in Congress -- with one exception. Earlier this week, Senator Leahy pledged to tack the U visa increase onto the larger comprehensive immigration bill currently being discussed. None of the other eight Senators working on the new bipartisan framework have mentioned the increase as part of their plan.