Getting domestic violence victims to step forward is a difficult task in and of itself – let alone if the victim is in the country illegally.
Illegal immigrants won’t always ask for help, for fear of being deported. But crime victims in America, even if those here illegally, have recourse: the U visa.
U visas protect victims from facing consequences with Immigration Services during investigations, granting them and close relatives temporary legal status and work eligibility for at least four years. The U.S. can give out as many as 10,000 U visas each year.
The program has helped some area illegal immigrants be more forthright about abuse, said Shannon Leeper, a detective with the Lenexa Police Department.
“I’ve seen that once I educate victims about that, we have a lot more cooperation because they understand that we want to help them,” said Leeper, who is assigned to domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault cases in the city.
Leeper said she’s seen an increase in the number of domestic violence cases called in by illegal immigrants since she became lead detective on the crime in 2008.
Those who file for U visas agree to cooperate throughout the entire legal process. That means no recanting – a difficult issue in domestic violence cases even without fear of deportation.
So, Leeper said she and her officers do their best during the initial call to lock in recorded testimony and evidence.
“The minute we get dispatched out on a call, we try to gather as much evidence as we can on the front line because 24 hours, 48 hours later, often people change their story and recant,” she said. “I find that if we can lock them into their statement at first contact and reassure them that we want to help them, they’re less likely to change their story.”
The minute a U visa applicant decides not to cooperate by denying harm or claiming to forget any abuse, the contract becomes void. But Leeper said her department typically doesn’t call immigration officials to report it, when that happens.