This past week, an Associated Press article released news that the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services had begun to sort out visas under the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Act. The act, seven years overdue, provides temporary visas for illegal immigrants who have been victims of crime within the United States. The purpose of allowing illegal immigrants to apply for this U-Visa “is to encourage illegal immigrants to report crimes against them in return for the right to remain in the United States and eventually apply for permanent residency.” This law allows ten thousand U-visas to be granted per year, and these visas expire within four years. One revolutionary aspect of the act is the following: if a U-visa holder stays within the country for three consecutive years, he or she can apply for full citizenship after the three years have passed. Offering U-visas appears to be a positive approach towards immigration, but the act has not passed without encountering some opposition.
Numbers of opponents of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Act find the U-visa portion of the act to be controversial. Ed Hayes, the Kansas director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has a firm stance against illegal immigrants, stating that, "If they become a victim, I am sorry for them. They should testify and then go home." Hayes oversimplifies how victims report crimes, ignoring the fact that illegal immigrants may not even report crimes if it jeopardizes their ability to stay in the United States. He claims that since they are illegal, they have no right of even being in the country to begin with, and are therefore not entitled to any sort of visa. Some opponents of the act are more sympathetic towards illegal immigrants, taking into consideration a provisional visa. Mark Krikorian (image on the left), executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, suggested an alternative to the U-visa, “something that allowed a person to testify but didn't give them the jackpot of a green card.” In essence, his argument is that an immigrant visa should be more difficult to attain. Illegal immigrants should not be rewarded with citizenship for participating with law enforcement if they are victims of a crime, but only a temporary visa to allow the victim to testify in a case. Although this argument is a fair one, Krikorian fails to acknowledge the fact that most crimes against illegal immigrants go unreported. The recent tightening of immigration laws, which provides that an illegal immigrant convicted of a crime in the U.S. will be immediately removed from the country, is the approach the government is using to pursue justice for the victims of these crimes. This sounds like a promising way to curb the number of illegal immigrants in the country while pursuing justice for the victims of the crimes, but this removal procedure alone does not appear to provide enough motivation for illegal immigrant victims to report crimes against them. There needs to be an incentive for these crime victims to file a report, which the Victims of Trafficking and Violence act takes into account.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence act is progressive in its approach towards illegal immigrants because it grants temporary residency and a chance for illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship. Although the G.O.P.-led administration is more stringent when it comes to immigration laws, the act circumvents the administration’s efforts, presenting an alternate medium for illegal immigrants to attain citizenship. This law is a partial victory for illegal immigrants since it offers protections and services normally reserved for U.S. citizens. Reasoning for the act is summed up by U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services spokesperson Marilu Cabrera, who says, “it is helpful for the government that we get information and cooperation so we can solve these crimes and prevent future crimes.” Few statistics about illegal immigrants as victims of crime exist; the act would ideally increase the information available on the issue by increasing the number of people that report crimes. Cabrera continues, “for the person, it gives them peace of mind and an opportunity for a new life.” Her statement mirrors what illegal immigrant and crime victim Eleuterio Rodriguez Ruiz said about his motives for entering the United States. He voices that “more than anything I came to this country to find a better standard of living.” His words allude to the idea of the American dream, an issue discussed within my first blog post concerning immigration. Rather than building higher walls for illegal immigrants to climb over (image on right depicts desperation of immigrants to get to the U.S.), the American government should get to the roots of illegal immigration, one factor being poverty. Almost one hundred percent of the illegal immigrants coming from Mexico are near or below the poverty line and since about fifty-six percent (click on "origins" link on page) of illegal immigrants come from Mexico, the correlation between trespassing into the United States and financial instability becomes apparent. Bringing criminals to justice is important, but alleviating the poor from suffering is also imperative. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence act sets a precedent for acknowledging the suffering of illegal immigrants; hopefully this recognition will extend beyond the courtroom, offering economic relief as well. Instead of investing three billion dollars to secure borders between the U.S. and Mexico, a portion of the money could go towards assisting the poor in Mexico. Offering financial help to a country plagued by high poverty rates could potentially prevent as many illegal immigrants from sneaking into the U.S.
Although the purpose of Victims of Trafficking and Violence act is intended to uphold the justice system and put criminals in jail, the law goes beyond preserving the notion of “crime and punishment.” One proponent of the act, lawyer Peter A. Schey, said, “we intend to continue the fight for immigrant crime victims,” because they are a “largely poor, vulnerable population with no political clout.” Illegal immigrants are at an estimated twelve million and exponentially growing, and therefore are an undeniable presence in the country. By no means should illegal immigrants receive the equal benefits and protections naturalized citizens receive, but if they are subject to a crime, they should be shielded from more violence and crime. Realizing that the rights of victims, regardless of citizenship status, supercedes immigration law, conveys a more accommodating, inclusive strategy towards dealing with immigrants.