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Crime victims who are immigrants may be eligible for special visa, but struggle with the process

People who don’t have permanent immigration status and who’ve been victims of crime may qualify for a special visa.

Problem is, they’re often reluctant to come forward and report the abuse. Even if they do, law enforcement lacks guidelines for helping them.

A bill before the Washington state Senate Committee on Law and Justice is trying to change that. It would help law enforcement agencies get up to speed on the application process for the U visa.

The federal U nonimmigrant status, or U visa, helps immigrants who’ve been victims of certain crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. To apply for a U visa, victims need certification from a law enforcement agency. 

Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said at the moment, there are no clear guidelines for law enforcement to issue them. Some agencies are not familiar with U visas and may be confused about their role in the application process.

“In some cases some agencies have said well, 'I’m not sure that I want to grant somebody a visa,'” Baron said.

But in fact, it’s not up to local agencies; it’s the feds that ultimately grant the visa. Certification from law enforcement is just one of many components in the process.  Without it, Baron said, a crime victim’s visa application may not move forward.  

“Somebody could have all of the court records, all the police reports, everything to show that they in fact were a victim,” he said, “but the statute is written very clearly that you need a certification form.”

Last year, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed petitions for more than 300 immigrants who were crime victims. 

Year started with KUOW: 1994