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New York Investigation Department Urges NYPD Visa Program Reform

pexels-photo-97516-300x200In the wake of President Donald Trump’s aggressive campaign against immigration, undocumented immigrants all over the United States have avoided reporting criminal acts to the authorities and testifying in courts out of fear that their immigration status may be discovered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who have been reported to prowl courthouses. These immigrants include victims of crimes such as domestic abuse and sexual assault.

According to Michael Kaufman of the ACLU, “Sadly, it appears that [ICE’s] aggressive tactics, including arresting people at courthouses, are having a chilling effect. The result is that more victims will remain in the shadows and more immigrants will be vulnerable to abuse.”

U.S. cities have recognized the safety threat posed by the decline of reported crimes and have moved to adopt new law enforcement policies to encourage noncitizens to come forward with their reports. One such initiative is New York City’s own take on the “U Visa” program, which provides temporary relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants who have been victims of crime.

The program has mostly been successful, with around 74% of the U visa applications being approved in 2015 and 82% in 2016. The NYC’s Department of Investigation, however, published a report Friday highlighting fatal impediments and shortcomings in the program’s implementation.

The report, according to Philip Eure, NYPD Inspector General, “demonstrates that NYPD’s U visa program has taken steps to improve and needs to go further, specifically strengthening its internal standards when reviewing these certifications.”

Eure also found the reasons and process for denying applications to be suspicious, with police failing to detail their specific reasons for refusal. Denied applicants are merely sent a uniform letter with ticked boxes – lacking depth.

Furthermore, 16% of applications have been denied for the applicants’ criminal histories even if these are only for minor or nonviolent crimes; one applicant was denied for a past unlicensed vending charge. Not cooperating with police as an official witness is a viable ground for denial – even if coming forward as a victim would do more harm than good.

“Without further clarification, these standards evade definition, potentially resulting in NYPD’s use of discretion to deny certifications in a way that is inconsistent and unfair,” the report states.

“To illustrate this point, NYPD denied a certification request of a sexual assault victim who lived in fear of a partner who abused her and used her immigration status against her,” the report indicates, adding that, “Although this victim had provided helpful information to the police, NYPD’s investigative file notes that she ultimately did not want to move forward with the prosecution. NYPD denied her certification request on the basis of lack of helpfulness without taking further steps to determine whether her actions constituted a reasonable refusal.”

Other identified issues include a lack of training for officers in immigrant communities, failing to properly publicize the existence of the visa program, and refusing to adapt to the foreign language spoken by the target beneficiaries of the program.

The U Visa program is available to non-citizens in Texas and all over the United States. If you have been a victim of a criminal act but are afraid of taking action due to your citizenship status, let the legal team at the Lyttle Law Firm help you. Contact our offices to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.