Fear of Trump immigration policy deters domestic violence reports

For those whose presence in the United States is threatened by abuse or crime, the U visa has been a lifesaver — literally. Under the U visa program, victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes who are helpful to law enforcement are eligible to stay in the U.S. independent of other family members, who may include the abuser. Unauthorized migrants have the same rights as other victims of crime to apply for U visas, and U visa holders are eligible for green cards and eventual U.S. citizenship.

In other words, the U visa program is intended to protect victims of crime or domestic violence from deportation.

The Trump administration has not gotten rid of the U visa program, but confusion over current policy priorities is affecting the program anyway. Concrete examples occurred in another city, where four women, victims of violent physical assaults, withdrew their cooperation with the prosecution of the perpetrators. Why? It was Jan. 25, the date of President Trump’s immigration order, and they decided to forego their rights rather than risk being deported.

Were these women fools to give up a chance to pursue justice against a violent criminal as well as obtain permanent residency? Perhaps not. Unfortunately, prosecutors have seen ICE agents posing as local police officers and even hanging out at menacingly courthouses to inspect immigrants as they access the courts. And yes, ICE has indeed detained at least one victim of domestic violence at a courthouse.

“Witnesses, victims of crime, civil disputes, people who’ve been cheated by contractors — they rely on the courts, and if they are hearing that ICE hangs out at courts all of that gets discouraged,” notes one law professor on issue. “So it’s a big problem; people are getting hysterical right now, they are afraid.”

Our courts rely on immigrant participation in legal cases, whether those cases directly involve immigrants or not. When they do, immigrants have just as many rights as everyone else to seek redress of their grievances and protect their rights. When people don’t trust our police and courts to be on the side of fairness, the system breaks down.

If you are an immigrant and have concerns about seeking a U visa or accessing the courts, please contact an immigration lawyer right away. Your meetings with your attorney are always confidential.