Sharma Crawford

Building Safer Communities Through Mutual Trust, U and L.E.O.

In many places in the world, the police and the public are anything but friends. Each remains suspicious of the other. These fears and mistrust often come packed in the bags of immigrants and take up residence in their new homes in the US.

It may have been to help bridge an understanding, that the US Congress authorized certain visas to help make communities safer while building a relationship between a vulnerable society and those who swear to protect it.

With the creation of the U visa, which was first included in the 2000 Violence Against Women’s Act, Congress hoped that by taking away the fear of deportation, those who had been wronged would courageously join with law enforcement in the pursuit of justice. So keen was Congress in making communities safer and trust greater, that they allowed great latitude in the U visa program. In so doing, Congress recognized that law enforcement included not only the police, but also the courts, and the various governmental agencies that are responsible for protecting individuals. This meant that the foster care system, the Department of Labor as well as local, state, and federal prosecutors could also participate in the process of trust building. The compact being that victims of crime and law enforcement would become each other’s ally. With trust and truth as cornerstones, communities would mend broken alliances and create a safe-haven.

A key component of the U visa is a law-enforcement certification. This certification verifies for USCIS that the victim and law enforcement are actively furthering the visa’s purpose. By issuing the certification, law enforcement tells USCIS that there has been a recognized crime against a noncitizen and that the person has cooperated with them in the investigation, detention or prosecution of that offense. Since state laws differ, Congress created categories of offenses which are recognized for U visa cases. This method allows states to include a broad range of offenses which have no real one to one comparison under federal law. Why would Congress do this? Because it understood that each crime is different and that all crimes are based on the facts and individual state laws. By using this method of characterization, it allowed for crime victims to be treated with greater care.

Even though these visas were created in 2000, the rules by which they would be evaluated did not come about until 2008. This caused a bit of a problem because it meant that those who were victimized before USCIS set out all of the rules, were at risk of not being able to apply of this protection. Congress of course did not want such a unintended result. The way this type of result was avoided was by not placing date restrictions on the issuance of the certification. What that allows is that even if the offense occurred years before, if the victimized individual met all the other criteria, they could still ask USCIS to review their applications for eligibility.

There are ground rules for eligibility . Victims of certain offenses must stand with law enforcement, show that the injury (mental, physical, emotional or psychological) was substantial and come clean about any and all past indiscretions, including prior criminal conduct and prior immigration violations. Armed with all of the factors, USCIS would then evaluate the applications to decide if the person should be granted a U visa.

  • Have a certification from law enforcement (or another certifying agency) that establishes that that you have been helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation, detection or prosecution of one of the U visa crime categories
  • Show that you have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse or injury as the result of the offense
  • Continue to cooperate with law enforcement, as requested, in the investigation, detection, or prosecution of the offense
  • Show that you are deserving of a waiver of any ground of inadmissibility based on humanitarian and public interest grounds

Much like all other immigration visas, U visas have recently come under greater scrutiny. This is because there are always those who try and use the system to take advantage of others or people who, desperate to find a solution to their immigration limbo, try to stretch the system to include things it clearly does not. But the truth is, this kind of behavior is more harmful than not. It does exactly what the U visa was not designed to do, create rather than defeat, mistrust. A result that threatens the existence of the U visa process itself. Seeking the help of a competent immigration attorney can help avoid such a tragic occurrence.

Congress’ intent to build relationships are compromised by not only those who try to manipulate the system, but it is also equally threatened by law enforcement that fails to recognize the power that issuing valid certifications creates. There are some agencies that refuse to issue the certification because they feel that they are somehow helping someone who is not lawfully in the U.S. The truth is law enforcement is losing an opportunity when they refuse to participate in the certification process. This is because the communities they swore to serve and protect continue to feel like they can not trust the police for the fear that their immigration status would become an issue. The Department of Homeland Security is so committed to ensuring the success of the U visa program, that they have have established special offices that help law enforcement overcome their concerns with the process and help educate them about the reason U visas can help heal not only the victim, but also the community.

Trust creates trust and mistrust creates mistrust. That is just how things always turn out. With gun violence and police altercations in the daily news, something is going to have to help turn the conversations around. U visas can go a long toward rebuilding trust on both sides. And that is a win-win for everyone.

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