Nearly seven years after Congress passed a law authorizing visas for illegal immigrant crime victims, authorities announced Wednesday that the visas would finally be made available.I don’t know the inside story of why it took so long. It may be because this abused population is rock bottom on the Bush administration’s list of priorities. It could be because this administration resented having to implement a policy enacted by Clinton. But the reason it finally happened is not because USCIS wanted to do the right thing. As so often, it’s because they were sued.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued guidelines for the new visas, which are designated for certain victims who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes.
The visas will enable the immigrants to work and live in the U.S. and to apply for permanent residency after three years. Ten thousand "U visas" will be available each year, along with visas for family members.
Immigrants are eligible for the visas if they were victims of such crimes as rape, kidnapping or false imprisonment. They will be able to seek the visas retroactively, authorities said.
"We realize it took a long amount of time," said Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman Chris Bentley. "We just wanted to get it right."
Peter Schey, who sued the Department of Homeland Security for failing to issue the visas, said he had been fighting for this for years on behalf of thousands of violent-crime victims and their families.Even more so now that ICE is sweeping up everyone it can in the president’s last-ditch attempt to repair his damaged reputation with the nativist base. Perhaps USCIS is finally promulgating these rules safe in the knowledge that few U Visas will be used. But at least they are available now, which is a step in the right direction.
"This is a particularly vulnerable population," said Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles. "Immigrant crime victims are reluctant to come forward to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of violent crimes because they fear deportation."
In other immigration news, a federal district court in California put an injunction in place to stop harsh new employer Social Security no-match rules from going into effect. Right now, it's legislation by fiat and lawsuit in the absence of comprehensive reform. It's an unholy mess.
And civil disobedience is alive and well in Massachusetts:
In living rooms, laundromats, and community centers across Massachusetts, immigrant-rights groups are running an underground campaign to teach illegal immigrants to protect themselves from federal agents. Their instructions to the immigrants: Keep their lips sealed and doors shut unless authorities have a warrant.It’s not yet illegal to inform people of their legal rights. Some think it should be.
The grass-roots training sessions, coming in response to recent federal raids through immigrant enclaves from Nantucket to Boston to Springfield, have ignited controversy on all sides.
Federal customs officials criticize the nonprofit groups for aiding anyone in this country illegally and say that agents generally target criminals. But the advocacy groups, worried that the raids are more widespread, say that even illegal immigrants have rights under the Constitution.
Federal immigration officials and others say such training undermines federal immigration law, and worry that the advice could leak to criminals, as well. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter controls on immigration, called the training "immoral."Some would like to revoke any legal refuge available to immigrants and send everyone back whose grandparents weren't born here. Some would like to repeal the 14th Amendment and set the stage for a return to pre-Civil War constitutionally-sanctioned ethnic discrimination. All in the name of "rule of law." Well this lawyer doesn't believe that is the rule of law that was fought for for centuries by American civil libertarians.
"It troubles us tremendously," said Kelly Nantel, press secretary for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washington, maintaining that the agency does not conduct random sweeps for illegal immigrants. "We would encourage organizations that are engaging in that kind of information distribution to stop."
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the training sessions are a form of constitutionally protected free speech designed to help families who are unaware of their legal options. Many unauthorized immigrants have applied for legal residency or asylum and are awaiting hearings, she said.