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Towards more humane treatment of immigrant crime victims

On August 11, 2021 the Biden administration issued guidance instructing U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) to stop the detention and deportation of immigrants who were victims of crime.

ICE described the new policy as a “victim-centered approach.” ICE Director Tae Johnson said the guidance may help immigrants come forward to assist in investigations. "When victims have access to humanitarian protection, regardless of their immigration status, and can feel safe in coming forward, it strengthens the ability of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, including ICE, to detect, investigate, and prosecute crimes."

Under the new policy, ICE agents must avoid action against undocumented immigrants who have applied for special visas for victims of certain serious crimes (e.g., felony assault, human trafficking, domestic violence, and child neglect). ICE agents must also look for evidence that individuals were victims of crimes even if they haven’t applied for protections and provide information on visa applications and reporting their crimes. These ICE guidelines, however, do not apply to “exceptional circumstances” such as if the individual is a deemed a national security risk or could physically endanger somebody else.

The government annually offers up to 10,000 visas, called U visas, to undocumented individuals who were victims of certain crimes. Currently, the program has a backlog of 100,000 applications. In 2019, the Trump administration started a new policy giving ICE agents discretion to start removal proceedings for people waiting on U visas. This new guidance overturns that policy.

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