Budget provision sets standard on visa document
Requires law enforcement agencies to respond in 90 days
THE BUDGET SIGNED by Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday includes a provision creating statewide standards for immigrant domestic violence and human trafficking survivors who are seeking documentation for certain visas.
The provision, initially filed by Sen. Mark Montigny of New Bedford and Reps. Tram Nguyen of Andover and Patricia Haddad of Somerset, requires state agencies and local law enforcement offices to assist immigrants who testify in criminal cases or are victims of human trafficking and domestic violence with documentation they need to apply for two types of visas.
The visas, identified as U and T, create a way for immigrants to remain legally in the US to work, to avoid deportation, and to pursue a pathway to citizenship
U and T visas are types of permanent residency visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of a violent crimes, domestic violence, kidnapping, and those who assist law enforcement authorities in investigations. For both types of visas, a law enforcement agency has to attest that a crime occurred and that the visa applicant helped police in the prosecution process in a document called a certification. It’s a deciding factor in the final visa application.
The language contained in the budget requires the agencies to respond to certification requests in 90 days.
“If a person is victimized in an area where there is no policy in place, or the agency just isn’t familiar with the certification process, or they just don’t want work on it, there’s nothing in the law right now that would prohibit such departments from completely disregarding a completion process,” said Nguyen in an interview.
The U and T visas were created in 2000 as part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to help immigrant victims come forward to report crimes. Nguyen said the policy change is needed now because there has been an increase in domestic violence during the pandemic. “We want to make sure victims and witnesses feel safe to report these crimes, which will increase public safety as well,” said Nguyen.Advocates say that the new rules will provides victims with transparency, allowing them to know their rights and obtain much-needed protections.
“This legislation is essential, especially now, to ensure that survivors feel safe stepping forward to report crime,” said Julie Dahlstrom, director of the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program at Boston University School of Law. Dahlstrom, a group of law students, and the Mass Law Reform Institute assisted Nguyen, Montigny, and Haddad’s offices in drafting the bill.