Kerry Bretz, Partner, Bretz & Coven, LLP, says the City of New York should be recognized for its forward thinking in providing U and T visa certifications for some of the city’s 535,000 undocumented immigrants, especially those who have been a victim of a criminal act or inhuman treatment. Mr. Bretz says the visas will not only allow those who are in the country without status to assist in the investigation of a crime, but provide them a pathway to legal permanent residency.
On February 9, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) Commissioner and Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis announced that the NYCCHR will begin issuing visa certification for the city’s undocumented aliens, making it the only human rights agency in a major U.S. city to do so. Under federal law, agencies at the federal, state and local levels may issue T and U visa certifications.
A U visa allows undocumented victims of crime to remain in the U.S. for up to four years, during which they aid law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions. The crimes that qualify include, but are not limited to, rape, torture, trafficking, incest, stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault, prostitution, and extortion. “In New York City, we often apply for U visa certifications after a non-citizen has been a victim of a felony assault or a violent robbery,” Mr. Bretz says. The U visa allows immigrants to legally work during this time, and paves the way for application as a lawful permanent resident. A T visa, on the other hand, is for undocumented victims of human trafficking. On a T visa, immigrants are allowed to remain in the U.S. for up to three years while assisting law enforcement. Like the U visa, the T visa gives immigrants a conduit to obtain lawful permanent residence.
Certification is an important first step in the visa process because immigrants must submit proof of certification to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Certification is also seen as a way to encourage victims of crime to come forward, without fearing the consequences of their undocumented status. Mr. Bretz says this will strengthen the immigrant community and help individuals obtain justice.
The following agencies are authorized to sign the certifications: the New York Police Department, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Law Department, the Administration of Children’s Services, the Human Resources Administration’s Adult Protective Services and the NYCCHR. Mr. Bretz says, however, the NYPD seems either reluctant or unwilling to sign these certifications.
“As the chief law enforcement agency in New York City, it is imperative that the NYPD fully participate in this program in order to safeguard legal visitors and undocumented aliens who have been victims of a crime,” Mr. Bretz says.