Minneapolis officials are figuring out how to make it easier for people living in the U.S. illegally to obtain a “U” visa — a temporary protection for victims of crimes who assist in prosecution.
It’s the latest in a series of moves the City Council has made to protect immigrants living in the city at a time when federal policies are making it tougher to enter and live in the United States.
In Minneapolis, people seeking a U visa can go to the Minneapolis Police Department, the city attorney’s office or the Department of Civil Rights. A new ordinance, the details of which have yet to be finalized, would lay out the process in the city code.
“The idea here is more just to provide some regularization for what is already happening in the city,” said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who introduced the ordinance Nov. 17.
The 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act created the U visa, which allows people living in the U.S. illegally to stay in the country and eventually apply for a green card if they are helpful in the investigation of a crime committed against them. Once someone seeking a U visa is certified at the local level, they are eligible to enter an annual lottery to obtain the visa.
But people may avoid the process altogether because they’re hesitant to engage with local law enforcement, said Daniel Romero, a leader with the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC).
MIRAC members have raised concerns about people living in the U.S. illegally having to interact with the Minneapolis Police Department, which handles most U visa applications. The worry, Romero said, is that they will end up in jail once their immigration status comes to light and be deported before they can get a U visa.
In September, MIRAC brought its 13-point “Minneapolis Sanctuary Platform” to a City Council meeting and demanded city officials take action to protect immigrants. A Minneapolis police policy guaranteeing certification of all U visas — and expediting the process for applicants facing deportation — is part of the Sanctuary Platform.
The Sanctuary Platform also calls on the city to create a municipal ID that would be available to all Minneapolis residents. Council Member Alondra Cano introduced a municipal ID ordinance in October.
Though the specific language in Glidden’s U visa ordinance is still being worked out, it’s possible that it will ease some of the existing concerns. City Attorney Susan Segal said the ordinance could modify Minneapolis’ U visa process so all applications are reviewed by one appointed person, and people facing deportation get an expedited review.
“The underlying principle in why this kind of visa was included in federal immigration law to begin with is a really good one,” Segal said. “You want victims of crime to be able to come forward, and you want to encourage that, regardless of whether they’re documented or undocumented.”