Illegal Immigrants Who Are Victims of Crimes Eligible for Temporary Visa

Illegal immigrants who are victims of crime may be eligible for a temporary U Visa in order to help police make an arrest.

U Visa

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Many victims of crimes who are in the country illegally are afraid to come forward during an investigation for fear of being deported. The U Visa is a temporary visa, good for up to four years that is reserved to protect victims of crimes by ensuring the victims will not face deportation if they are able to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute their aggressors.

Eligibility requirements

According to the Department of Homeland Security, a person may be eligible for a U visa, otherwise known as U nonimmigrant visa, if they:

• “are the victim of qualifying criminal activity.
• have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity.
• have information about the criminal activity. If [they] are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may possess the information about the crime on your behalf (see glossary for definition of ‘next friend’).
• were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If [they] are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may assist law enforcement on [their] behalf.
• The crime occurred in the United States or violated U.S. laws.
• are admissible to the United States. If [they] are not admissible, [they] may apply for a waiver on a Form I-192, Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant.”

Also listed by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are the ‘qualifying criminal activities” which are:

• Abduction
• Abusive Sexual Contact
• Blackmail
• Domestic Violence
• Extortion
• False Imprisonment
• Female Genital Mutilation
• Felonious Assault
• Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
• Hostage
• Incest
• Involuntary Servitude
• Kidnapping
• Manslaughter
• Murder
• Obstruction of Justice
• Peonage
• Perjury
• Prostitution
• Rape
• Sexual Assault
• Sexual Exploitation
• Slave Trade
• Stalking
• Torture
• Trafficking
• Witness Tampering
• Unlawful Criminal Restraint
• Other Related Crimes*†”

Abuse of a well-intended program

While the U visa was created originally to help those who were victims of sex trafficking through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, it is swelled into a free-for-all for any illegal immigrant willing to prosecute another person who has wronged them in order to be granted temporary citizenship. Otherwise minor offenses such as stalking, blackmail, and witness tampering are now qualifying criminal activities that can secure a victim a temporary citizenship. Those who are victims of more heinous crimes such as female genital mutilation, rape, and sex trafficking now have to fight for one of the 10,000 U visas granted annually.

Used ONLY if/when needed

Another concern over the U Visa program is the lack of a deadline between when a crime is committed and when a petition for a U visa is accepted. Victims of qualifying criminal activities can apply for a U Visa immediately after the crime or even over a decade later which was the case for Javier Flores Garcia of Philadelphia. Garcia and his brother were attacked by two other illegal immigrants, with Garcia and his brother suffering several stab wounds. The incident took place in 2004 yet Garcia did not apply for a U Visa and offer to help prosecute his assailants until 2016. Twelve years had passed, and Garcia only agreed to help police make a case against the two men when he himself was suddenly facing deportation.

Unfair tool to obtain a conviction

Although the U Visa has its place to help victims of crimes suffering from physical and mental abuse, many feel it is being overused and/or abused. Until the U Visa program is reexamined and revised to only help those who truly need it, its use in obtaining a conviction or rising a case from the dead should be strictly limited.

Mass Incarceration of Drug Trafficking Offenders

An end may be in sight for the United States’ issue with mass incarceration of drug trafficking offenders as thousands of federal inmates were released over the weekend.

Over 6,000 inmates released early

Photo by: Sam Villaroman

Photo by: Sam Villaroman

Around 6,100 drug trafficking offenders around the United States were released this weekend from federal prisons. This may appear as though the U.S. Sentencing Commission is making strides in reducing the mass incarceration of drug trafficking offenders; however most of these inmates were already on the final leg of their sentencing with the majority having already been released to halfway homes. Others who were not U.S. citizens were released into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) only to await being deported. While this may have been just a small step, the U.S. Sentencing Commission plans on taking more by granting early release to another 16,500 more drug trafficking offenders within the next year. Optimistically, this early release program will have positive results and will eventually lessen the mass incarceration levels of drug trafficking offenders in all federal prisons.

More than 2 million behind bars

Currently the United States averages over 2 million inmates housed in both jails and prisons around the nation, the largest amount of inmates than any other country in the world. While several offenders are imprisoned for violent crimes or repeat offenses, there is a large amount of inmates who are serving time for drug offenses. According to the Special Report issued last month by the U.S. Department of Justice: Since 1994 nearly 182,000 new offenders have been sentenced to Federal prisons. Out of those, 52% were drug trafficking offenders. More than half of the nation’s federal prison inmates are sitting behind bars for nothing more than drugs.

War on drugs & extreme penalties

The war on drugs was officially declared in the early 1970’s, although it didn’t pick up speed until well into the 80’s when the Drug Enforcement Administration was founded. With the cracking down on drugs and the harsh penalties that followed, the amount of people incarcerated for drug crimes since then has skyrocketed. Not only are more individuals facing jail or prison time for drugs; the penalties for possession, distribution, and drug trafficking offenders are extreme. For example, the DEA states that penalties for drug trafficking offenders who have a quantity of more than 500 grams but less than 5 kilograms of cocaine will face “not less than 5 years and not more than 40 years.” Those convicted a second time, or those arrested with more than 5 kilos are facing “not less than 10 years and not more than life.” Anywhere from 5 years to life for drug trafficking offenders is outrageous and something is finally being done about it, even if there are other incentives for releasing inmates early.

Ulterior Motive

While claiming that reducing the harshness of penalties for drug trafficking offenders is a priority, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has other motives for releasing drug offenders early.

• According to the Sensible Sentencing Reform: The 2014 Reduction of Drug Sentences Policy Profile, “Congress directed the Commission […] to “minimize the likelihood that the Federal prison population will exceed the capacity of the Federal Prisons.”

• Stated elsewhere on this policy profile the Commission adds that this program “could save close to 80,000 prison bed years over time.”

• Additionally, “The BOP budget is well over $6 billion, accounting for 25% of DOJ’s total budget.”

Regardless of the motive, most of the public are in favor of reduced sentencing for drug trafficking offenders and see the change in Federal sentencing procedures as a positive step in the right direction. For more information on the reduction of drug sentences, and how it might affect those facing new charges in the future, contact a criminal defense attorney today.