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Border & Immigration

California's Attorney General Issues Guidance On Law Helping Immigrant Crime Victims

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is shown speaking during a general session at the California Democrats State Convention in Los Angeles on March 8, 2014.
Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
California Attorney General Kamala Harris is shown speaking during a general session at the California Democrats State Convention in Los Angeles on March 8, 2014.

California’s Attorney General released guidance this week on a coming law that requires state prosecutors and police to help some immigrant crime victims obtain special visas.

The San Diego Police Department said it's reviewing the information bulletin, which emphasized that the law is meant to increase public safety.

California’s Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act goes into effect Jan. 1, requiring law enforcement agencies to fill out a certification form for the so-called “U Visa” when immigrant crime victims help with a crime investigation and meet certain other conditions.

The visa grants these victims temporary permission to stay in the country. The law is meant to encourage people to report crimes, regardless of their immigration status.

“These immigrants unfortunately are usually afraid to report a crime to law enforcement,” said San Diego-based immigration attorney Maria Chavez, referring to their fear of being deported, among other things.

She said she expects immigrants throughout the county will benefit as police and prosecutors start aligning their practices with the bulletin.

“It’s about time they got some official guidance on what they have to sign and not leave people in limbo for so long,” she said.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman talks about a federal investigation of the San Diego Police Department as Mayor Kevin Faulconer stands beside her on March 24, 2014.
Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman talks about a federal investigation of the San Diego Police Department as Mayor Kevin Faulconer stands beside her on March 24, 2014.

The state law is similar to a federal law governing U Visas for certain crime victims. However, the federal law gives agencies discretion in determining whether to complete the certification for the U Visa. The state law mandates it under certain conditions.

The bulletin from California’s Attorney General also highlighted that the certification must occur within 90 days of the request, or within two weeks if an immigrant is facing deportation.

Immigration attorneys said the time element is one of the biggest benefits of the upcoming law, because sometimes these requests are pending for more than a year.

“There’s a huge undocumented population here, and San Diego really should be setting an example for the rest of the state,” said Ashley Arcidiacono, a San Diego-based immigration attorney.

California is the first state to mandate that law enforcement agencies help immigrant crime victims who assist with investigations.

“By having the bulletin issued, it just highlights how serious of an issue it is, and hopefully gets law enforcement on board prior to January 1st,” she said.

According to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 45,000 applications for U Visas were filed last year, up from about 17,000 five years ago.

So far this year, close to 13,00 applications have been filed. Only 278 petitions have been approved.

In an emailed statement, the San Diego Police Department said it “encourages all victims and witnesses of crimes to come forward regardless of their immigration status, confident in the knowledge their report will be investigated thoroughly and professionally.”

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