Today ICE Director John Morton issued orders to ICE officials that give in to much of the criticism on ICE detainers that has been voiced by officials in Santa Clara County, CA, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Cook County, IL, and elsewhere.
If you listen to the folks at DHS, you would think that we've only been deporting hardened criminals in the last couple of years. It is true that many criminals have been deported, but ICE has still been busy deporting ordinary people guilty only of lacking the proper immigration status. And according to the information in a Freedom of Information Act data set obtained by Colorlines, nearly 23% of all indviduals deported had American citizen kids. DHS will claim that most of these parents were criminals, but a lot of these people are not criminals in the sense that most Americans would believe. For example, driving offenses count as crimes. And 40% of those deported for being criminals were charged with the lowest level crimes.
Great Editorial from the Waco Tribune-Herald on the U-Visa Certification by Judge Ralph Strother
The greatness of our justice system is not only the rule of law but the decency, humanity and fair play that wonderfully characterize our Judeo-Christian society. In that regard, District Judge Ralph Strother has demonstrated integrity and understanding of the law and American values by stepping in to help a young sexual abuse victim when District Attorney Abel Reyna callously failed her.
Strother not only embraced the letter of a 2000 law in doing so, he booted petty politicking out of the courthouse, however briefly.
For a year, Reyna refused to sign the necessary paperwork for a 13-year-old immigrant girl and her mother to apply for U-Visas, which allow certain victims of crimes temporary legal status if they have helped law enforcement and our justice system put criminals behind bars. In this case, the girl helped Reyna convict a sexual offender who is now off our city streets.
The thanks she got for her courage in coming forward, at risk to herself and her mother? Reyna refused to sign the paperwork for the girl and her mom to apply for U-Visa protection. Reyna’srationale: U-Visas should not be doled out as “rewards” to illegal immigrants who help with the investigation and prosecution of crimes. Nice guy.
Talk about working at cross-purposes. This law was crafted to encourage crime victims in undocumented immigrant communities to help law enforcement go after dangerous criminals who threaten us all. By taking what strikes us as a political stance while forging a reputation for mistrust in immigrant communities, Reyna now makes it harder for his office to reach out to similar victims who could help lock up criminals engaged in an array of crimes, including drug trafficking, prostitution, domestic violence and rape. Who there would trust him?
What’s more, the DA’s view of U-Visas as “rewards” shows no consistency with the idea of compensation for crime victims championed not only by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott but advocates for victims of domestic violence — the same advocates who so vigorously pushed the U-Visa law.
Luckily, district attorneys are not the only ones who can sign paperwork like that signed by Strother for this 13-year-old abuse victim (brought to the United States, incidentally, through no fault of her own). Judges can, too. In this case, the girl is not guaranteed citizenship or anything remotely qualifying as amnesty, just possible temporary legal status — enough to qualify for some counseling for the horrors she endured at the hands of a sexual offender.
A Waco judge has stepped in to help a young sex abuse victim who is seeking permission to stay in the United States.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna refused to sign paperwork the 13-year-old girl and her mother need to apply for U-Visas, saying the visas should not be doled out as “rewards” to illegal immigrants who help with the investigation or prosecution of a crime.
The request sat in Reyna’s office for nearly a year before he denied it late last month.
Waco attorney Susan Nelson, who is representing the family pro bono, decided to approach Judge Ralph Strother of Waco’s 19th State District Court as a last resort.
Strother signed the necessary paperwork earlier this week after Nelson made a brief presentation about the case.
“We’re definitely overjoyed,” she said.
The girl provided Waco police with information that led to a 43-year-old local man being convicted for continuous sexual abuse of a child late last year. He pleaded guilty and received a 35-year prison sentence.
The Tribune-Herald is not naming those involved in the case to protect the girl’s identity, as the newspaper does for all sexual assault victims.
The girl’s mother reported the crime despite knowing it could cause the family to come to the attention of immigration authorities.
She came here from Mexico about 12 years ago, when the girl was an infant. Neither has legal permission to be in the United States.
The mother also knew reporting the crime would place the family in financial jeopardy. The abuser was the mother’s longtime boyfriend and provider for the family, which includes four younger children. Since his arrest, the family has lived with a friend as it struggles to afford basic necessities.
Local victims’ advocates referred the family to Nelson in hopes that U-Visas could help them rebuild their lives. Under the U-Visa statute, created by Congress in 2000, permission to live in the United States can be granted to both victims and certain immediate family members.
In the mother’s case, legal status could help her find better employment and support her family. For the girl, it would mean eligibility for government programs, like Medicaid, that would allow her to continue counseling, among other benefits.
Nelson and the girl’s mother spoke out last month after becoming frustrated with the lack of response from Reyna’s office.
Other immigration attorneys have expressed concern about Reyna’s handling of U-Visa paperwork since he took office in January 2011.
Two days after the Tribune-Herald published a story about the case, Reyna rejected the family’s request.
Reyna declined to talk to the Tribune-Herald about his decision. But he recently wrote a post detailing his interpretation of the U-Visa law on his office’s Facebook page.
“A U-Visa is for someone who is in the country illegally and who risks deportation for being cooperative with law enforcement on a case from start to finish,” Reyna wrote. “The Tribune-Herald implies that it is meant as a reward for cooperation, but nothing can be further from the truth. The purpose of the U-Visa is to prevent deportation of a victim at different stages throughout the justice system.”
Reyna continued, “U-Visas are not supposed to be a reward for testimony, but rather an insurance policy to make sure that justice is done.”
Reyna said U-Visa requests also can be certified by police chiefs, sheriffs or judges.
“Lawyers who are seeking this legal status for their clients can simply submit their law enforcement certifications to any of these entities,” Reyna wrote.
That suggestion is not as simple as it sounds. The Waco Police Department has a policy against signing U-Visa paperwork.
The reason, a spokesman has said, is that victims might not follow through in helping prosecutors if police sign.
Although Nelson is pleased Strother took action, she maintains either Waco police or the district attorney was best suited to handle the request. Strother did not hear testimony in the case since the girl’s abuser pleaded guilty, she said.
But Strother said he thinks he was the proper person to certify the family’s request.
If a prosecutor signs such paperwork, even after a case is disposed of, it could appear that certification was done as a pay-off, he said. A defense attorney could argue the alleged victim invented or embellished testimony to get status.
Strother said he will consider any future requests for U-Visa certification on a case-by-case basis. But he was glad he could help Nelson’s client.
“She didn’t ask to be here or ask to be a victim,” Strother said. “It was just the right thing to do.”
Gail Pendleton, an attorney who worked with staff of U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to draft the U-Visa legislation, said she has heard district attorneys argue certification can look like a payoff.
Her response is that cases often require prosecutors to assure jurors a witness doesn’t have ulterior motives. Plus, many cases never make it to the point where a judge becomes involved, through no fault of the victim, she said.
A similar argument can be made for why police are best suited to certify in particular instances, Pendleton said. If a case doesn’t proceed to the prosecution stage, a detective may be the best person to assess cooperation, she said.
But when a community tackles the issue, what’s important is that some avenue of protection is available to illegal immigrants who are victimized, Pendleton said.
Despite the views of some officials, Pendleton said the law had two goals: offering humanitarian relief and encouraging immigrants to work with law enforcement.
That second goal has become even more important during recent years as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have worked more closely with local law enforcement to identify illegal immigrants, Pendleton said. That has made some immigrants more fearful.
“It harms everybody if there is an underground society where crimes can be perpetrated,” said Pendleton, who is co-director of Asista, a national organization that helps professionals working with immigrant crime victims. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with helping somebody who’s helping the criminal justice system.”
University of Texas School of Law professor Barbara Hines offered a similar view of the U-Visa statute.
There are other legal mechanisms to keep an illegal immigrant in the country to help with a case. Congress did not create U-Visas as a “last resort.” Instead, lawmakers wanted to encourage immigrants to speak up, she said.
“Congress decided who should benefit,” said Hines, who is co-director of UT Law’s immigration clinic. “It’s a federal issue, not a local law enforcement issue where they should be deciding who merits a U-Visa and who doesn’t.”
Among those who most aggressively lobbied for the law were domestic violence groups, Hines said.
They knew battered women often fail to report abuse because of deportation fears. The same dynamic can play out in other types of cases, such as robbers targeting illegal immigrants, she said.
“If you believe in community policing, the community includes undocumented immigrants, especially in Texas,” Hines said.
Yesterday afternoon, McLennan County 19th District Court Judge Ralph T. Strother signed the Law Enforcement Certification for the child sexual abuse victim that District Attorney Abel Reyna denied in November. This was a stark contrast with the ten (10) months of inaction by the D.A.'s office.
Now this young girl can apply for a Crime Victims visa with USCIS.
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.”