Shadows and Lies

Why won't politicians help inform immigrant victims?

Why won't politicians help inform immigrant victims?

The Wednesday, May 24, Baltimore Sun online edition ran a story that shocked the conscience of even its most jaded readers. Although it was a complicated narrative of obstruction and deceit, it was also amply summed up by its headline: "Baltimore attorney arrested for allegedly offering rape victim $3K to not testify, saying Trump will deport her."

According to the Sun, a Baltimore defense attorney and his interpreter told the husband of an alleged rape victim "about the 'current environment for immigrants in this country' and offered $3,000 cash if she did not show up to court, which would force prosecutors to drop the case."

Referring to "an indictment by the Maryland attorney general's office", the Sun reports that the interpreter told the husband: "You know how things are with Trump's laws now; someone goes to court, and boom, they get taken away." The lawyer also reportedly suggested that the husband of the victim "beat up his client" instead of going to court.

As disturbing as the story itself was, the response from Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh was not much better. Specifically, Frosh told the Sun: "If you're an immigrant, you live in a climate of fear at this point, and these folks were trying to capitalize on that."

Frosh apparently, however, failed to use this opportunity to inform the victim, or the public at large, about the immigration relief that seemingly would have been available to the rape victim and her husband: a nonimmigrant U visa.

Under section 101(a)(15)(U) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), nonimmigrant U visas are available to aliens who have been the victims in the United States of:

[R]ape; torture; trafficking; incest; domestic violence; sexual assault; abusive sexual contact; prostitution; sexual exploitation; stalking; female genital mutilation; being held hostage; peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade; kidnapping; abduction; unlawful criminal restraint; false imprisonment; blackmail; extortion; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; fraud in foreign labor contracting (as defined in section 1351 of title 18, United States Code); or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes.

There is a petition process for U visas, and requirements that must be met for eligibility, including that the alien victim "has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful" to federal, state, or local law enforcement, prosecutors, or judges, but that would appear to have been true in this case and is true in most criminal cases where conviction relies on the testimony of the victim. In addition, the alien victim must show that he or she "has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity," but again, this is true for the victim of most if not all of the qualifying crimes. Finally, and importantly, a U visa is available to the spouse and children of an alien victim.

There is a cap of 10,000 visas annually for alien victims, but as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) notes:

If the cap is reached before all U nonimmigrant petitions have been adjudicated, USCIS will create a waiting list for any eligible principal or derivative petitioners that are awaiting a final decision and a U visa. Petitioners placed on the waiting list will be granted deferred action or parole and are eligible to apply for work authorization while waiting for additional U visas to become available.

It goes without saying that there is significant disagreement in the United States today about how the government should treat aliens who are living in the United States illegally. There is less disagreement, however, when it comes to aliens who are victims of crime.

I would argue that sanctuary policies create a vulnerable underclass of aliens who are subject to the sorts of predation that the Sun describes. Local law enforcement should let ICE know about the removable alien criminals in their midst to protect the innocent. And, throughout American history to the present day, immigrants to this country have tended to live, at least initially, with other immigrants, and therefore the most likely victims of alien criminals are other aliens. Releasing those criminals back into their communities harms, not helps, their alien neighbors, who are likely to be the victims of future crimes.

Those who would demagogue the president's immigration policies (which are not significantly different from those followed for most of the Obama administration) often characterize immigration enforcement under Trump the same way that, the authorities charge, the criminal attorney described in the Sun article did: as an unfeeling and indifferent system that scoops up criminal and victim alike into its ravenous maw. As the U visa regime shows, however, the truth is much different.

It is possible that Attorney General Frosh described the resources and relief that are available to alien victims in his statements to the Sun, and that the Sun simply omitted those statements. There does not, however, appear to be any information on his website that explains the protections that are available to alien victims of crime. There is, however, a link captioned "Maryland Lawmakers Expand Attorney General's Powers, Cite Trump Concerns". That link goes to a Wall Street Journal article that describes how Frosh has been given authority by the (Democratic-majority) General Assembly to "sue the federal government without permission from ... [the Republican] governor," authority that he was granted after Frosh failed to receive permission from the governor to file a lawsuit against President Trump's January ban on entry of aliens from seven countries.

It is possible that the attorney general does not know about the availability of U visas to victims of crime, but that is more disturbing than the prospect that he deliberately did not mention them to make a political point. His website describes him as the "people's lawyer", and notes:

The Attorney General is the chief legal officer of the State. The Attorney General's Office has general charge, supervision and direction of the legal business of the State, acting as legal advisors and representatives of the major agencies, various boards, commissions, officials and institutions of State Government. The Office further represents the State in all cases pending in the Appellate Courts of the State, and in the U.S. Supreme Court and lower Federal Courts.

Nor is the federal government keeping U visas a secret from Attorney General Frosh. DHS has an entire webpage captioned "U and T Visa Law Enforcement Resources", that includes a PDF 33-page guide for local and state police, complete with links to DHS agencies to request U-visa training.

Similarly, a simple internet search on "visas available for victims of crime" returns a link to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website captioned "Victims of Criminal Activity: U Nonimmigrant Status", that includes a box showing an individual peering fearfully around a corner and that states: "Don't be afraid TO ASK FOR HELP Immigration relief is available for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and other crimes."

Police, prosecutors, judges, and state attorneys general need to be aware of the availability of relief for alien victims of crime, and to the extent that they are not, they need to learn. There are many sources for this information, including DHS itself. As importantly, however, alien victims of crime who are living in the shadows of sanctuary jurisdictions also need to know that they can seek relief. Opportunities to provide that information, like the Sun article, should be used effectively. Politics can wait.