On Tuesday, April 6, Lee Ann S. Wang presented a talk at UCLA entitled Asian American Feminisms and the Re-Writing of Legal Voice: Immigration Law, Criminal Enforcement, and “Cooperation.”
Wang, a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley, addressed the discourse of the U visa that requires immigrants seeking the visa to be subject to the police state. The U visa is “designed to rescue undocumented immigrants from gender and sexual violence” that agree to assist the police department in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.
However, due to the binding terms of the victim to the police state under the current U visa program requirements, Wang stresses the importance of revising the U visa program so that undocumented immigrants who seek to apply may feel like empowered agents, rather than powerless victims subject to the police state.
According to Joey Hipolito’s paper, Illegal Aliens or Deserving Victims?: The Ambivalent Implementation of the U Visa Program (2010), the U visa “potentially provides legal status to immigrant crime victims who assist law enforcement.” This becomes problematic because it creates a discourse between the “good” and the “bad” immigrant.
Wang also claims that police state’s enforcement of the U visa is based on the “cooperation,” or rather coercion, that “binds the future of visa applicants to the practice of enforcement over the criminality of blackness and the whiteness of universal innocence.”
Ultimately, in cooperating with law enforcement and government officials, the “good” immigrant upholds systemic biases towards whiteness while participating in the criminalization of blackness through the police state.
Another issue with the U visa is its legal interpretation as well as its limited number issued.
With persisting stigma against undocumented status, immigrants that experience gender and sexual violence are hesitant to seek assistance and apply for the U visa due to fear of deportation. The cooperation requirement of the U visa may also deter undocumented immigrants who fear law enforcement.
As right-wing pundits continue to receive media attention for their violent rhetoric attacks towards undocumented immigrants, the present political climate perpetuates a sense of intimidation and uncertainty for undocumented immigrants that apply for the U visa, a process that reveals their undocumented status to law enforcement officials and further entangles them with the police state throughout the duration of their “cooperation.”
While it is necessary to revise the terms of the U visa in order to help immigrants who experience gender and sexual violence feel like agents of the law rather than victims of the law, a larger dialogue addressing the tensions between law enforcement and undocumented immigrants is also of great importance.