New California Law Helps Immigrant Crime Victims

In 2000, the federal government created the “U Visa” in an attempt to protect immigrant victims of crimes, and encourage cooperation with law enforcement. The U Visa provides protection from deportation and a pathway to citizenship for noncitizen crime victims that cooperate with law enforcement. To be eligible for a U Visa, a person must meet the following qualifications: (1) have been a victim of a qualifying crime in the U.S.; (2) have suffered substantial physical or mental harm as a result of the crime; (3) have information about the crime and have been helpful, will be helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; (4) have certification from a federal, state, or local law enforcement authority certifying his or her helpfulness; and (5) be admissible to the U.S. or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility.

However, many of those who qualify under the program face a variety of obstacles that prevent them from attaining a U Visa. One such barrier is the often-cumbersome implementation of the program’s certification requirement.

In an effort to address this problem, California enacted SB 674: the Immigrant Victims of Crimes Equity Act. The new law, effective January 1, 2016, seeks to ensure that all immigrant crime victims in California have equal access to the U Visa by implementing a uniform certification standard that mirrors the federal standard.

SB 674, found at California Penal Code Section 679.10, requires law enforcement agencies in California responding to U Visa certification requests to comply with the following standards:

  1. Certifying entities must certify victim helpfulness when the crime victim requests a certification, is a victim of a qualifying crime, and has been helpful, or is likely to be helpful to the detection, investigation, or prosecution of that qualifying criminal activity;
  2. A rebuttable presumption exists that a victim meets the helpfulness requirement if there is no evidence that the victim refused or failed to provide information and assistance reasonably requested by law enforcement;
  3. The Certifying official must fully complete and sign the certification and include specific details about the crime and the victim’s helpfulness;
  4. Agencies must process the certification requests within 90 days or within 14 days if the person is in removal proceedings;
  5. A victim can request and obtain a certification even if no charges were ever filed, no conviction resulted, or the investigation is over;
  6. The certifying official can only withdraw the certification if the victim refuses to provide information and assistance when reasonably requested;
  7. The certifying entity is prohibited from disclosing the immigration status of the person requesting a certification, except to comply with federal law or legal process, or if authorized by the person requesting the certification; and
  8. Law enforcement agencies must report back to the legislature annually regarding the number of certification requests received, signed, and denied.

Under the new California law, certifying law enforcement agencies include, but are not limited to, child protective services, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and the Department of Industrial Relations.

Worker advocates, organizers and workers should be vigilant of crimes that take place in the workplace and of the potential remedies that are available for immigrant crime victims. If you have questions about the U Visa application process or the effect of SB 674 on a U Visa application contact your immigration or labor law counsel.

By Stephanie Delgado | March 25, 2016

Legal Developments