Undocumented immigrants in the United States often have second thoughts when it comes to reporting crimes. To encourage immigrants to cooperate with the authorities, Congress initiated the U-visa program, which provides legal status to victims of crimes such as, but not limited to, sexual assault, theft, and domestic violence, upon the condition that they cooperate with law enforcement officials in criminal investigations.
The only problem is that the ease of applying for a U-visa usually varies between states. This issue is what prompted the New York City Police Department to propose a rule with new deadlines to expedite the visa application process—it’s a move that some immigrant activists hope will bring about change in the system.
Visa Process Starts at the Local PD
Although the decision of who gets approved for a U-visa lies within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, immigrants often have to apply at the local level, starting with the police department. Police play a critical role in the U-visa application process, as a law enforcement official has the authority to sign a form that certifies an immigrant was the victim of a serious crime and provided crucial help in the subsequent criminal investigation.
Immigration lawyer C.J. Wang said that certification is simply proof that the victim was a cooperative asset during the investigation. She noted that the NYPD has been usually slow to sign off on application forms, forcing immigrant advocates like her to spend countless hours paper chasing, making a dozen phone calls, and going to police headquarters to find the person responsible for certifying these forms.
Immigration lawyer, Zoey Jones, of the Brooklyn Defender Services, echoed this sentiment, adding that waiting times for certification can last as long as a year and even more. Timely certification is important, she said, because these delays can lead to the deportation of an undocumented immigrant.
The NYPD has yet to comment on the issue. In its latest proposal, the department plans to set a 45-day deadline to sign off on certification requests, as well as a 90-day deadline to address appeals for rejected requests. A local group of immigration activists, however, is pushing for a 30-day deadline instead, in order to expedite U-visa applications to the federal government.
Potential Model for Other Government Agencies
Still, others express optimism for the proposed rule. Debora Weissman, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, believes the proposal has the potential to “be a model for other law enforcement agencies.”
After conducting a nationwide study of U-visa policies, Weisman observed a wide range of policies and regulations between states and no standardization. In fact, some police departments refuse outright to sign certification requests, perhaps in the mistaken belief that they could be granting citizenship status to an immigrant.
If you or–anyone you know—were a victim of a crime and want to know your rights as an immigrant, get in touch with the immigration attorneys of Lyttle Law Firm. Call us at 512-215-5225 for a consult and discussion on how we can help you.