New York City is standing up to make sure all its residents feel safe — regardless of their immigration status.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that the city’s Commission on Human Rights will become the first anti-discrimination agency in a major U.S. city to provide U and T visa certification to undocumented immigrant victims of crime and human trafficking.
The visas — created in 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act — would allow victims to stay in the country during an investigation and could also provide a path to legal permanent residence.
“All New Yorkers deserve fair, equal and just protection under the law,” de Blasio said. “We must stand up for the rights of all our brothers and sisters, and make our city safer by encouraging collaboration and engendering trust between the police and community.”
This effort hopes to encourage undocumented immigrants — of which 535,000 call New York City their home — to report crimes, which often times go unreported due to fear of deportation.
The U visa allows undocumented victims of crime to temporarily remain in the country for up to four years while helping law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions. It also gives the individuals the chance to work legally and get on the path to legal permanent residence.
Crimes that qualify for a U visa include rape, torture, trafficking, incest, stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, extortion and sexual exploitation.
The T visa only applies to victims who have been trafficked into the country and allows them to remain in the U.S. for up to three years to assist in investigations. This visa culd also provide the path to permanent residency.
Crimes that qualify for a T visa are limited to sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
“It’s important that the NYC Commission on Human Rights pays attention to these cases, where immigrants like me are abused by employers or by others, and certify U visas,” said U visa applicant Enriqueta Luna. “I suffered sexual harassment and other types of abuse from my employer, and this happens to many others throughout the city. It’s important that our rights be protected, and that immigrants know that they can come forward when they suffer this type of abuse.”
Currently federal law allows federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to issue U or T visa certifications.
The first step in obtaining a visa is receiving certification by a law enforcement agency. Applicants must submit their certification to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for approval.
A total of 10,000 U visas and 5,000 T visas are available per fiscal year, according to authorities.
“Everyone in New York City is protected under the New York City Human Rights Law, regardless of their immigration status,” said Carmelyn P. Malalis , commissioner of the city’s Commission on Human Rights. “Issuing certification will bring victims of abuse one step closer to the justice they deserve.”