Representatives from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services held training in Tucson this week to help law enforcement officers understand their role in helping crime victims apply for special visas.
The Department of Homeland Security offers T-visas for victims of human trafficking, U-visas for victims of crimes, and VAWA visas through the Violence Against Women Act.
Part of the application process requires the immigrant to provide an affidavit from law enforcement that proves he or she was the victim of a crime. The officer’s statement must also indicate that the victim cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation.
About 20 officers from local and federal agencies working in Arizona participated in the training, said Scott Whelan, adjudications officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Washington.
These visas became available in 2008 and by 2010 “the U-visa program was very new,” Whelan said.
“A lot of the questions that came forward then were that officers may be a bit uncomfortable thinking that they may be signing a document that would give somebody a visa, they would say ‘we are not immigration officers, we are not experts’ so there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered," he said.
In the last couple of years, he said, the knowledge and comfort level for law enforcement officers has increased but training is still necessary.
For fiscal year 2013 - which ended Sept. 30 – 25,432 applications for U-visas were filed in Arizona. During that same period, 799 visa applications for victims of human trafficking were filed in the state and 7,065 people filed for visas under the Violence Against Women Act.
DHS has a cap of 10,000 for the U-visas and in the first five months of this fiscal year that number has been reached, Whelan said.
Tucson is one of 39 cities where federal immigration officials from Washington will provide training. The classes are to educate the public, emergency responders, law enforcement officers, healthcare professionals and advocacy groups about the programs that protect crime victims who may be in the U.S. undocumented.