Bloggings on Immigration Law
On June 17, 2011, the Morton memo of USCIS emphasized the use of prosecutorial discretion to be used by ICE officers for illegal immigrants that cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies. Morton however failed to specifically single out T visa petitioners for prosecutorial discretion. Although T Visas, which are geared towards the victims of human traffickers, originated in the Victims of Trafficking and Violent Persons Act of 2000, it’s time for more immigration attorneys, human rights organizations, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to give more attention to this issue.
The T visa requires that the petitioner be victim of severe trafficking (such as sex trafficking or labor trafficking), be physically present in the United States, comply with the assistance of US authorities in the prosecution of those that were responsible for the trafficking if the petitioner is older than 18, and show severe hardship if forced to leave the United States. After three years of having a T visa, an individual is eligible to apply for lawful permanent residency. Derivative family visas are also allowed after the issuance of the T-1 visa.
The T visa program is very unique because it brings together individuals from all different sides of the immigration struggle in an effort to protect the lives of those that have been victims of human trafficking. However, more needs to be done to increase the visibility of this program for the victims of human trafficking to know that they are eligible for relief. Each year, over 18,000 are victims of human trafficking in the United States. Worldwide this number is at 2 million. Despite a cap of 5,000 visas being available each year, only 447 were issued last year.
Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement has tried to stress that those that are applying for T Visas will not be deported in spite of their illegal status in this country, many traffic victims remain weary to work with ICE. Confusion also exists for victims of human trafficking as to which law enforcement officials they can report their crimes to without fear of reprisal, arrest or reporting them to ICE based on Secure Community requirements. Other possible law enforcement agencies that can investigate human trafficking include the US Attorney’s Office – Civil Rights and Criminal Division, the FBI, and the US Marshall Service. Cross coordination is necessary between these organizations to investigate human trafficking, and additionally, local law enforcement agencies should also be part of the effort as trafficking victims may be less reluctant to work with local law enforcement authorities.
The requirement that the T visa petitioner show severe hardship if forced to leave the United States is also troublesome. Current regulations require that T visa petitioner be able to demonstrate “unusual and severe” harm if removed to their home country. Past and future economic conditions of the T visa petitioner are not sufficient to meet this requirement. Given the abuse that these human trafficking victims have faced and the advantage of arresting the predators of these victims, regulations regarding the severe hardship requirement should be relaxed.
Danielle Beach-Oswald is the current President and Managing Partner of Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates in Washington, DC. Ms. Beach utilizes her 19 years of experience in immigration law to help individuals immigrate to the United States for humanitarian reasons. Born in Brussels, Belgium, Ms. Beach has lived in England, Belgium, Italy and Ivory Coast and has traveled extensively to many countries. Ms. Beach advocates for clients from around the world who seek freedom from torture in their country, or who are victims of domestic violence and trafficking. She has also represented her clients at U.S. Consulates in Romania, China, Canada, Mexico, and several African countries. With her extensive experience in family-based and employment-based immigration law Ms. Beach not only assists her clients in obtaining a better standard of living in the United States, she also helps employers obtain professional visas, and petitions for family members. She also handles many complex naturalization issues. Ms. Beach has unique expertise representing clients in immigration matters pending before the Federal District Courts, Circuit Courts, Board of Immigration Appeals and Immigration Courts. She has won over 400 humanitarian cases in the United States. Her firm's website is www.boilapc.com.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.