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Five years is a quarter of my lifetime. In the next five years, I will have graduated from Duke University. It’s possible that I’ll be in law school, working, or living in a new city. And when those years pass, I’ll probably look back and think how fast it all flew. But for someone who’s life is on pause, five years might feel like an eternity.

So, why five years?

That’s approximately how long the waitlist is for U Visa applicants. In my first two weeks of working with Catholic Legal Services, I have started to become familiar with different types of cases and applications. Three of the clients I have worked with are applying for a U Visa—meaning they were the victim of a crime. In order to be eligible for a U Visa, a client must demonstrate that:

-They were the victim of a crime in the United States.

-They were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

-They have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity.

Proving eligibility requires extensive documentation like police reports, an official certification from the police or prosecutor, and records demonstrating harm like psychological evaluations and hospital visits. In other words, not only have U Visa clients experienced something traumatic, but they have to relive and prove this trauma throughout the application process. And all of this is for a chance to have their application processed and accepted five years later. In the meantime, they have no status or protections afforded to them.

What’s worse is that the length of the waitlist indicates the volume of migrants who have been the victim of crimes on U.S. soil. And these are just the people who have had the courage to speak up and request help. Many undocumented people are fearful that calling the police, seeking out resources, or applying for visas can lead to deportation.

Two weeks in, I feel extremely privileged to have been trusted with these clients’ stories and experiences. As I continue to ponder my future and where I’ll be in the next five years, I will reflect on the fact that thousands of people’s lives hang in the balance until their application arrives on the desk of an immigration official five years from now.