(Español) The Trump Administration’s hardline stance against undocumented immigration has resulted in less cooperation with law enforcement. This was a major fear for both immigrant advocates and law enforcement since then-candidate Trump laid out his potential immigration policies back in 2016. New data collected by WNYC in New York now offer credibility to the notion that victimized undocumented immigrants seem less willing to engage with authorities.
It has long been established policy for the US government to encourage undocumented immigrants to reach out and cooperate with law enforcement officials if they are the victim of a crime. Should they cooperate and assist, the law enforcement agency, which can range from the police department to any of the district attorney or solicitor’s offices depending on the jurisdiction, can choose to sign a certification for the immigrant stating their cooperation. With the certification, undocumented immigrants can apply for what is known as a U-visa, which is meant for victims of crimes who cooperate with law enforcement and often leads to an arrest. With the administration’s crackdown, applications for U-visa certifications in New York City have dropped by 14% since 2017 and 2018. Many immigration attorneys in New York City are not surprised by this drop especially since Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun stationing themselves around courthouses around different boroughs of the city to detain undocumented immigrants who are attending court, regardless if the immigrant is attending criminal court for an offense or as the victim of a crime. This even extends to the family courts in New York City.
Previous guidelines for ICE enforcement limited their ability and willingness to approach undocumented immigrants in courthouses. This has since been rescinded since President Trump took office. This has led to a new reality for immigration attorneys, particularly those who help clients who are often the victims of domestic violence. Now, they often have to warn their clients there is a possibility ICE could detain them in court while attempting to file for protections.
Despite the downturn in applications for U-visa certifications, officials in New York City, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, continue to reach out to immigrant communities. Their hope is to assuage their fears by letting them know their offices will not share information with ICE. (It is worth noting that policy does not apply to those who have been convicted of a serious crime.) Even those who do apply for the U-visa face an excruciating wait of several years because there is a limit to how many of these visas are granted each year. They face the unique stress of knowing they can have some form of legal status in those coming years while also knowing government officials are aware of their presence and location.