EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Four years after the mass shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart, some people who were not U.S. citizens and were there are trying to get visas for being victims of crimes.
“Individuals that were present that day included folks that are citizens, immigrants that are folks that have lived in our community for many years, legal permanent residents, folks with pending cases, with legal status, newly arriving immigrants that are asylum seekers, and then, of course, tourists,” said Christina Garcia the Deputy Director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
The center says they have submitted 50 applications for people who were at the Cielo Vista Walmart on August 3, 2019, for U nonimmigrant status visas.
“Almost four years after the shooting, we see the victims of crime, they’re able to submit U Visas with immigration. However, there’s an over 20-year wait to actually obtain the U Visa,” said Garcia.
Out of the 50 applications submitted by the center, only one has received a response for preliminary status and it was for a minor.
“That’s called deferred action status for a minor, and immigration did not give the same status to the parents. So, those are some of the challenges that we see with immigration,” said Garcia.
A woman, Ana Gabriela, who was at the Walmart the day of the shooting and is a client of the center, has applied for a U Visa.
“This isn’t something I can forget easily that day left a permanent mark in my life and my son Eduardito,” said Ana Gabriela in Spanish.
Ana Gabriela said August 3 is her husband’s birthday and she and her son went to Walmart to get ingredients to bake a cake.
“The shooting started. I remember seeing someone get shot at the entrance and that’s where I was completely paralyzed from the shock. My nine-year-old, then nine-year-old, Eduardito dragged me out of the Walmart screaming and crying. I will never forget my son’s face filled with fear,” said Ana Gabriela.
She said that after the shooting her husband was in an accident, and they want to start a business of selling burritos to make ends meet.
“Our pending U Visa application hasn’t progressed, so we do not have work authorization to make things happen or to support our family,” said Ana Gabriela.
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, a U Visa is set aside for victims of certain crimes.
“The U nonimmigrant status (U Visa) is set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity,” read the information on the USCIS website.
The federal case for the El Paso Walmart shooter Patrick Crusius concluded in July, but the state case is still pending.
“Folks should fully cooperate with whatever that case is going to look like in order to be eligible for the visa,” said Garcia.
According to USCIS, the U Visa was created by Congress with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000.