It may soon be easier for immigrants who are in the country illegally and who have been victims of crime in St. Paul to stay in the United States, if they cooperate with police.
A proposed ordinance expected to go before the St. Paul City Council this week would require the St. Paul Police Department to process "U" visa applications within 30 days. If an applicant is facing deportation, the processing deadline would be seven days.
"On a really basic level, it's good government," said City Council President Amy Brendmoen. "It's being clear about our policies and our practices and making sure everyone, including our most vulnerable community members, knows how to navigate our system."
The Minneapolis City Council approved a similar ordinance last year.
U visas, part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act passed in 2000, allow 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.
U visa applications have been on the rise in recent years, but an annual limit on approvals has led to a massive backlog, a recent Star Tribune report found. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies vary widely in their approval rates for U visa requests from immigrant crime victims.
The St. Paul police received 132 U visa applications in 2017 and certified 48, according to the department. Once the police have certified the U Visa application, it goes to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for final determination.
In addition to creating deadlines for processing U visa applications, the ordinance codifies some things the police department is already doing, Brendmoen said.
To receive a U visa under the proposed ordinance, an applicant must cooperate with police and must have been the victim of a qualifying crime — as defined by the Department of Homeland Security — that was committed in St. Paul, according to police Sgt. Mike Ernster. The list includes major crimes such as sexual assault, kidnapping and murder.
The City Council will consider the ordinance on Wednesday. A public hearing will likely be held May 30.