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ICLS settles lawsuit with Riverside County, increases access to public benefits for T visa, U Visa, and VAWA applicants

Inland Counties Legal Services (ICLS) settled a lawsuit against Riverside County in December that will enable undocumented applicants for U Visas, T Visas, and VAWA – survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and other serious crimes – to apply for certain public benefit programs. 

Previously, eligible residents were wrongfully denied state-funded Medi-Cal, Cash Aid, and CalFresh food assistance because they did not have a social security number. The lawsuit, brought forward by Inland Counties Legal Services, resulted in the county adopting several programmatic changes, including expanding the list of acceptable verifications for such non-citizens residents. 

The move will greatly increase stability for immigrants and their families who have experienced domestic violence, human trafficking, and abuse, Inland Counties Legal Serivces’s advocates say. 

“This settlement is incredibly meaningful for those who are impacted. Food benefits, health insurance, and cash assistance are essential supports for those escaping a life of violence and abuse, especially those that do not have family in the U.S. and are afraid due to their immigration status. The changes Riverside County will be making to their application and recertification procedures will truly impact lives,” Inland Counties Legal Services attorney Maria Delgado said.

For ICLS client and lawsuit petitioner Martha Torres, who was denied based on her immigration status, being denied benefits meant struggling to receive medical care after she had been involved in a car accident. Her slow recovery and unlawful denial of food assistance from the County prevented her, as a single mother, from adequately providing for her daughter.

“The County denied me full-scope Medi-Cal benefits when I needed them the most because I had a severe injury that prevented me from getting ahead. The County made it really hard for me to keep my food benefits, even after I had been initially approved, for not having a social security number,” Torres said. “I am happy that the County is making changes so that people like me do not have to struggle to receive benefits they are entitled to.” 

These essential public benefits programs give survivors of abuse time to get back on their feet, recover from the situations they’ve faced, and build better lives for themselves and for their families. 

Going forward, Riverside County will amend their social security number requirements, accept other valid forms of verification related to the visas and VAWA self-petitions, update policies, practices and procedures to align with the settlement, issue written instruction to all staff on the changes from the settlement, and host a training for all staff on the changes.

The affected applicants are eligible for benefits through three different forms of immigration relief — the U Visa, for survivors of violent crimes that are willing to help law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity; Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions, who have faced battery or extreme cruelty by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident; and the T Visa, for survivors of human trafficking. 

“The majority of applicants to these visas and self-petitions have been through incredible hardship. These are people who were brought here to be sex trafficked, who faced terrible physical abuse, and who were afraid to turn to authorities due to their immigration status,” Inland Counties Legal Services attorney Vivian Anaya said. “These types of visas can be one of the only ways to escape the cycle of abuse, and accessing public benefits can help them put that in the rearview.” 

Legal staff on Inland Counties Legal Serivces’s Immigration team encountered the problem for years with clients who were receiving assistance with the visa process for victims of crimes. After seeing the issue come up again and again, they informed the organization’s Systemic Impact Litigation team, which focuses on big picture issues that can impact residents throughout their coverage area. 

“We see the value in bringing these types of cases forward because of the difference public benefits can make in someone’s life, and we’re glad we did.” Inland Counties Legal Services Systemic Impact Litigation Practice Group Director Elena Castillo said. “This settlement will provide much needed support for people who have gone through a great deal and will help them build a brighter future.”

For those interested in learning more about ICLS’s systemic impact work, the unlawful practices that led to the lawsuit, and the anticipated impact for U-Visa, T-Visa, and VAWA applicants, there will be a virtual townhall at 12:00 p.m. on March 5, which is open to the public. A registration link is available at

About Inland Counties Legal Services

ICLS is a 501(c)3 nonprofit legal aid organization serving Riverside and San Bernardino Counties providing direct legal services to more than 10,000 households in 2023. Founded in 1958, ICLS aims to eliminate financial barriers for low-income residents to access civil legal services. We provide services for housing, health care, consumer, family law, seniors, education, public benefits, immigration, LGBTQ+, tax, and small businesses.