Each year, thousands of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. obtain visas by helping law enforcement agencies solve crimes.
A woman who asked to be identified only as Ana G and her husband drove across the Mexican border illegally into California 20 years ago.
Through a translator, she says they were here 12 years before he began abusing drugs and physically abusing her.
"He was deported because he had a lot of problems," she says. "He had two felonies and he was deported to Mexico."
But, she was allowed to stay in the U.S. and apply for a U Visa, which is available only to a victim of crime who helps law enforcement with an investigation.
She went to Erica Vazquez and the Mil Mujeres non-profit organization in Sacramento for help with the process. Mil Mujeres helps immigrant victims of crime, abuse or trafficking apply for one of three types of visas.
"We're above 80 that we've been able to help," says Vazquez. "I would say around 50 at this point have been sent over to immigration and are being processed and we are awaiting decision."
Either law enforcement or a district attorney's office must endorse a U Visa application for it to be considered by the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services division.
Combined, the Sacramento County Sheriff's and Sacramento Police Departments have endorsed 78 percent of the 204 applications they've processed.
Nationwide, 10,000 applications are accepted by Homeland Security each year. There are about 86,000 pending.
The U Visa can be a path to citizenship.
About a million people emigrate to the United States legally each year. Most are accepted because they already have family in the states, or businesses sponsor them because of their job skills. About 50,000 people are selected by lottery.
"If you have that U Visa for four years, you can go ahead and apply to become a permanent resident," says Sharon Rummery with the Department of Homeland Security Citizenship and Immigration Services division. "What that means is you will emigrate officially. You'll get a green card and five years after that you can apply to become a U.S. citizen."
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