Visas for Victims of Crime Issued Inconsistently
A series of exceptions to normal immigration laws are built into the system to protect victims of abuse, natural disasters and oppression. For illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes in the U.S., these visas are meant to encourage cooperation with prosecutors and law enforcement. But they are doled out based on discretion of local law enforcement, which, according to immigrants rights groups, makes them less effective at improving public safety, The Arizona Republic reported today.
ICE gives out up to 10,000 U-Visas per year to illegal immigrants who are victims of violent crime and who cooperate with law enforcement. But the police or prosecutors determine whether to issue certifications for U-Visas — and the way they make those decision differs between jurisdictions. In Arizona’s Maricopa County — home to controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio — former County Attorney Andrew Thomas believed many illegal immigrants were trying to use U-Visas to avoid deportation, his spokesman told the Arizona Republic. Thomas also flat-out ignored requests:
Phoenix attorney Mercedes Ryden said that her last request for certification, before Thomas left the post to run for attorney general, received no response from the County Attorney’s Office.
“There was absolutely no cooperation at all,” Ryden said. “Not even a willingness to hear the facts of the case.”
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has issued seven certifications in response to 31 requests since the program began in 2008, spokeswoman Jamie Brennan said. Of those, six have been issued since Rick Romley took office in April as interim county attorney.
Granted, some immigrants do use the visas as a means to stay in the country: the Arizona Republic reported on one couple who applied for the visas because their work visas expired, citing a home invasion eight years prior. They said they are now more willing to cooperate with police.
But illegal immigrants in other areas might still be deterred from working with law enforcement if they do not think they will be granted U-Visas, immigration lawyers told the Arizona Republic.
U-Visas are part of a general debate over how local governments and law enforcement agencies should work with illegal immigrant populations. The reasoning is similar to the debate over other “sanctuary” policies: If illegal immigrants are a part of the community, they should be integrated to protect general public health and safety. Removing fear of deportation for victims of violent crime is one way to work toward that goal.