City to offer new visa option for undocumented crime victims
The city’s Commission on Human Rights will begin issuing visa certifications to undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime, letting them stay in the country during investigations and giving them a path to legal permanent residence, Mayor Bill de Blasio will announce Monday.
The visas — known as U and T visas — provide protected status to victims of human trafficking, mental and physical abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, letting them stay in the country to help law enforcement investigate or prosecute the crimes.
The move will make the commission the first and only anti-discrimination agency in a major U.S. city to provide the certification.
“All New Yorkers deserve fair, equal and just protection under the law,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We must stand up for the rights of all our brothers and sisters, and make our city safer by encouraging collaboration and engendering trust between police and community.”
De Blasio administration officials said they are green-lighting the agency certification in an effort to protect immigrant communities and encourage them to report crimes in their communities, which often go unprotected because victims fear deportation.
According to data provided by City Hall, there are 535,000 undocumented immigrants living the city, and because of their status, crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking often go unreported.
The U visa allows undocumented immigrant victims of crime to remain in the country for up to four years and provides them a work permit. The T visa, which applies only to undocumented immigrants who have been trafficked into the United States, allows victims to remain in the country for up to three years and provides a pathway to lawful permanent residence.
Before the victim of a crime can apply for the U visa, they must first provide the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with a certification from a law enforcement agency confirming that a qualifying crime has in fact occurred and that the victim is cooperating with the investigation.
Visa certification by a law enforcement agency such as the Commission Human Rights is the first step in the visa process for applicants, who then can submit the paperwork to Citizenship and Immigration Services for visa approval. Currently the New York Police Department, district attorneys' offices, the Law Department, and the Administration for Child Services also provide the visa certification.
“By issuing U and T visa certifications, the Commission provides another venue for undocumented immigrants to come forward, report unlawful activity and assist in investigations,” said Commission on Human Rights commissioner Carmelyn Malalis. “As a civil law enforcement agency with investigatory authority, the Commission is well-situated to identify crimes that may qualify immigrants for U and T visa certification, including sexual assault in the workplace, tenant harassment, forced labor, extortion, and human trafficking.”
Administration officials said the commission will undergo official rulemaking in order to codify the new certification protocol and work with the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Office of Criminal Justice to develop outreach efforts and educate the city’s immigrant communities about the U and T visa options.
NOTE: Relying on information provided by city officials, the original version of this article listed the Human Resources Administration’s Adult Protective Services among the entities that could provide visa certification. A city official emailed after publication to say that it had been included mistakenly.