Reporting crimes to the police provide victims with an opportunity of retribution for the wrong forced upon them. However, immigrants consistently express a fear of reporting crimes to the police because it may open up a Pandora’s Box of legal problems that could lead to deportation. Although concern about interactions with the police may have been well-founded in the past, modified immigration laws are designed to protect most immigrants from deportation when reporting crimes, especially when the immigrant is the victim of the crime in question.
The federal government claims that they mainly target immigrants involved in serious, violent crimes for deportation. However, data shows that hundreds of thousands of immigrants in America with minor nonviolent convictions and with strong family ties are still being removed after reporting valid crimes to the police. These stats reinforce the immigrant’s stigma associated with reporting crimes and they are not the only ones who suffer.
The Constant Fear of Deportation and Its Effect on Public Safety
Despite efforts by police to engage in a positive way with immigrants, the trust gained by changes in immigration law quickly evaporates whenever an immigrant ends up being deported after reporting a crime. Public safety becomes an issue when entire communities are afraid to report crimes due to fear of deportation. The federal goal of identifying people for deportation becomes blurred with the state’s goal of protecting people from crimes like rape, sexual assault, and human trafficking.
Failing to open up a fearless, unabated path for immigrants to report crimes creates a community where public safety seriously suffers. Nevertheless, foreign nationals that are put into removal proceedings after reporting crimes may still have defenses that can allow them to stay in the country.
Deportation Protections through U Visas, T Visas, and VAWA
U.S. law establishes several protections for legal and undocumented immigrants who have become victims of a crime. Victims are often unaware of such protections and therefore fear reporting these crimes to the proper authorities. As a way to increase public safety, there are specific protections for victims of domestic violence, victims of certain crimes, and victims of human trafficking.
In October of 2000, Congress created the U visa in order to help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens, and other crimes. In short, the U visa offers deportation protection to victims of these crimes.
The Office of Communications of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services states the following four eligibility requirements for U Visas:
- The individual must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of a qualifying criminal activity.
- He/she has information concerning that criminal activity.
- He/she has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
- The criminal activity must have violated the laws of the United States or occurred in the U.S.
Human trafficking is a growing problem within the United States. Traffickers tend to target the poor, unemployed, underemployed, or those who lack the safety and protection of strong social networks. Under the false pretenses of good jobs and better lives, victims are lured in and then forced to work under brutal and inhumane conditions.
The T nonimmigrant status (or T visa) provides immigration protection to victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons when they assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases. Illegal immigrants are eligible for a T visa if they:
- Are or were a victim of trafficking
- Are in the United States, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or at a port of entry due to trafficking
- Comply with any reasonable request from a law enforcement agency for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking
- Demonstrate that he or she would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if you were removed from the United States
- Are admissible to the United States.
Illegal immigrant who are victims of domestic violence by the hands of a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident may be eligible to apply for a green card under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Victims must establish that they:
- Have or had a qualifying relationship with the abuser spouse, or, are the parent or child of the abuser,
- Reside or resided with the abuser,
- Have good moral character, and
- Have been victims of battery or extreme cruelty. VAWA provisions apply equally to men and women.
Despite its name, VAWA is applicable to both men and women who are victims of domestic violence. Depending if you are a child, spouse, or parent, other basic requirements may also be required in order to properly apply for this type of visa. All immigrants that are victims of domestic violence may self-petition by filing Form I-360.
Reporting crimes to the police allows the judicial system to remove criminals from the streets, in turn making the community safer. Immigrants furthering the belief that reporting crimes means deportation do their city and themselves an enormous disservice. Find out more about immigration law through FindLaw.