The feds were hoping that U visas, a special class of visa for undocumented immigrants who report crimes to the authorities, would encourage “silent victims” who feared deportation to step forward and help law enforcement, and build trust between police and immigrant communities. U visa holders are allowed to live and work legally in the United States for four years while seeking permanent legal status.
Unfortunately for victims of unsolved crimes who might be eligible for the U visa program in New York City, the only agency which can certify many of them is the NYPD. Advocates are telling the News that only one eligible victim has received certification from the 20-step NYPD process in the past two years. In the same period, the activists say, local district attorneys’ offices have certified about 800 victims.
The FBI sees a lot of upside to the U visa program, if it’s allowed to work.
With immigrant victims no longer afraid to cooperate with the police, the subsequent increase in reporting will ensure the identification and apprehension of more violent criminals. Additionally, victim participation in the investigation or prosecution of cases increases the likelihood of convictions. The resulting accountability of offenders can lead to defendant rehabilitation, which, in turn, ultimately may increase the number of productive members of society, reduce crime rates, and promote public safety for all members of a community.
A California police official who spoke to the Times is also a fan.
“These are disclosure-driven crimes, meaning people have to come forth and report them; there’s no gunshot to bring it to our attention,” said Lt. Kevin Wiley, commander of the Oakland Police Department’s special victims unit, which certified 153 U visas last year.
“It’s all about building trust,” Lieutenant Wiley said, adding that police certification of the visas was a powerful tool in creating bonds among wary residents who have long been the silent victims of a range of crimes, like the robberies of illegal immigrants known on the streets as “amigo checkings.”
What is more, Lieutenant Wiley said, the police often discover that domestic violence offenders have multiple victims.
A police official here tells the News they’re working on it:
The NYPD’s Chief of Domestic Violence Kathy Ryan said the U-Visa certification process is more complex than the department first anticipated, with some crimes going back to 1992.
Ryan said she has assigned a point person to keep her apprised of the requests.
“We have revised the internal order a bit to streamline the process and word has gotten out to get these things moving,” Ryan said. “The police commissioner is personally interested in this. He looks at all the approvals and denials.”
Which, looked at from another perspective, could be thought to constitute a bit of a bottleneck.
According to the News, locally, district attorneys, family court and criminal court judges, the Administration for Children’s Services, and the NYPD can certify eligibility for U visa. Eligible applications are then passed on to US Citizenship and Immigration Services for final approval.
Offenses Covered by the U Visa
To obtain a U visa, the immigrant must be the victim of one or more qualifying crimes; the attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the acts; or any similar activity in violation of federal, state, or local criminal law:
Abusive sexual contact
Being held hostage
Unlawful criminal restraint
Obstruction of justice
Female genital mutilation
8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(U)(iii)