Repeated claims by immigration advocates that District Attorney Abel Reyna is failing to help illegal immigrants in exchange for their help or testimony in cases raise serious concerns about the confidence this particular segment of our community will have in local law enforcement and authorities. If Reyna fails to follow through and grant legally justified special visas to such immigrants, he could be laying groundwork for years of mistrust by this segment.
And it’s a segment that in the past has proven to be helpful to local law enforcement in solving crimes.
Whether you care about the mistreatment of those who have entered our borders illegally or not, this action could ironically put more of us at risk in our own neighborhoods. After all, if those in this large segment refuse to come forward with information that could help in criminal cases — due to fears of being deported or simply duped — then more rapists and robbers could live among us, perpetrating more crimes and getting closer to our own doorstep day by day.
What is a U-Visa?
The federal law that has immigration advocates in our area rankled was created by Congress in 2000 to allow district attorneys, judges and law enforcement officials the ability to grant U-Visas. These encourage illegal immigrants to cooperate with criminal investigations without fear of deportation. It was designed to forge trust and spark candor to do the right thing and report crimes.
Likewise, those who do — whether victims or witnesses — expect that our authorities will also do the right thing and help to protect or assist them in certain ways.
Reyna told a member of our editorial board last week that some of these special visa requests are from cases decided several years ago, before he took office. Even so, if the district attorney (whoever it is at the time) assures a witness immunity from deportation in exchange for testimony, such promises should be honored, if only for the integrity of the office itself.
Reyna told us this after Trib reporter Cindy V. Culp’s Nov. 25 front-page story highlighted this problem. This seems to be modus operandi for the McLennan County district attorney who, since his 2010 election, has developed a curious pattern of refusing to call back Trib reporters before an important story publishes, then vigorously disputes elements of it afterward.
Helping the law
In her story, Culp wrote of a local immigrant girl who recently helped put a sex offender behind bars after suffering years of abuse. Her lawyer claims they have repeatedly asked Reyna’s office for a visa to no avail. Meanwhile, the girl cannot receive government assistance and much-needed counseling because of her undocumented status.
We’re grateful for her bravery and help in convicting this sex offender. Our streets are no doubt safer for it. We should all feel shame at how she’s been treated.
Former Waco Police Chief Alberto Melis helped forge a delicate trust with our undocumented immigrant community in 2007 by reaching out to them to battle a wave of violent robberies in North Waco. He took flak for it but told us recently: “I felt if the police had a trusting relationship with the community, then we’d get a better handle on the crime rate.”
Melis used this philosophy later as police chief in Douglas, Ariz. He says it helped fight crime there. He recently retired and now lives in Waco.
“If a promise is made or implied, that should be so,” he said. “You have to be careful not to disenfranchise a segment of the population.”
In the end, it’s all about trust and decency.