Crime Victims Who Are Illegal May Apply for Visas

Roxana Hegeman, AP, October 19, 2007

Illegal immigrants who are victims of violent crimes in the U.S. can now apply for special visas, seven years after Congress offered protection against deportation to those who cooperate with law enforcement agencies.

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The long delay occurred largely because the agency drafted rules for issuing the so-called “U” visas before it became a division of the then-new Department of Homeland Security, she said. Consequently, the rules had to be reviewed again. Then the Department of Justice had concerns, [spokeswoman Marilu Cabrera ] said.

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The 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act established the visa to encourage illegal immigrants to report crimes against them in return for the right to remain in the United States and eventually apply for permanent residency.

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The law authorized up to 10,000 “U” visas every year. The visas are good for up to four years, and visa holders who are in the U.S. continuously for three years can apply for permanent residency.

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Ed Hayes, the Kansas director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, is more vigorous in his opposition to the program. He argues that there are many more American victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants than illegal immigrants who are crime victims.

“If they are here illegally, they broke the law,” Hayes said. “If they become a victim, I am sorry for them. They should testify and then go home.”

Since the law was passed, 8,301 petitioners and their families have been granted interim relief from deportation while awaiting publication of the “U” visa rules. They now have 180 days to apply for the special visas.

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The delay in the “U” visa program led a coalition of civil rights groups to file a class-action lawsuit in 2005 against Citizen and Immigration Services and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

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Angela Ferguson, an immigration attorney in Kansas City, Mo., who has handled about 50 deferred action cases for “U” visas, doubts the program will change immigrants’ attitudes toward police.

“I don’t think it is going to help them trust law enforcement more,” she said. “The fear is being stirred up everywhere—the fear of racial profiling, the rumors, the raids. I have people for the first time coming into my office and saying they are giving up and leaving.”

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