For immigrants in St. Paul who are living in the United States illegally and have been the victims of crimes, it may now be easier to stay in the country.

The St. Paul City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday that standardizes how the city certifies U visa applications for immigrants who are victims of crimes in the city.

“We’re living in a time when families are being separated, and the government plays a role in that,” Council Member Dai Thao said before the vote. “These are small things we can do to tell our immigrant communities that we care.”

U visas allow people living in the U.S. illegally to stay and eventually apply for a green card if they are helpful in the investigation of a crime committed against them — if they file a police report, for example. Qualifying crimes, as determined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, include sexual assault, abduction and torture.

The St. Paul Police Department and the city attorney’s office have the authority to certify U visa applications. The ordinance reflects some things the police department is already doing, said City Council President Amy Brendmoen, who spearheaded the effort to formalize the city policy.

“It’s incredibly important to codify our actions,” she said.

Certified applications go to the Department of Homeland Security for final determination. The new ordinance, which is similar to one the Minneapolis City Council approved last year, requires the police department to certify applications within 30 days, or seven days if an applicant is facing deportation.

No one spoke in opposition to the ordinance at a May 6 public hearing. John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, spoke in support.

“The moment for this action in St. Paul, particularly coupled with what Minneapolis did recently, is extremely important,” he said.