(AP) – For victims of crime on U.S. soil who are living in the country illegally, a special visa programme encourages them to help solve their cases and catch criminals and often provides their only clear path to citizenship.
But, as Republican President Donald Trump’s administration has taken a harder line on immigration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appears to be stepping up the detention and deportation of people who have applied for the so-called “U visa.”
“These cases come up on the regular,” said Cecelia Friedman Levin, senior policy counsel at ASISTA, a group that works with advocates and attorneys helping immigrant survivors of violence.
“What that does, to my mind, is undermines the spirit of the protection to begin with.”
Through the programme, petitioners are able to get a visa, and then a green card, before eventually applying for citizenship.
But, because of a long process and apparent policy shifts — something ICE denies but for which advocates have provided evidence — immigrants are now being swept up before they have a chance to legalise.
Their applications are still active even after they’re deported, but they can be separated from their families for years while they wait.
And advocates argue some applicants came to the U.S. after fleeing violence or threats in their home countries and face danger if they return home, even temporarily.
Most important, they say, an undermined U visa programme discourages the reporting of crimes committed in the US because immigrants are less likely to come forward as victims.
That, they say, leaves perpetrators on the street to offend again.