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Proposed bill removes visa cap for undocumented crime victims

Erika Mahoney/KAZU
With support of Salinas Police and the Monterey County D.A.'s Office, Congressman Panetta discussed his new bill, the Immigrant Victim Protection Act, on Jan. 25.

Central Coast Congressman Jimmy Panetta wants to expand protections for crime victims who are undocumented immigrants. 

Currently, the U.S. designates 10,000 visas a year for undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime. Called U Visas, they could eventually lead to green cards, or permanent status. To get one, the victim must agree to cooperate with law enforcement.

Congressman Panetta says 10,000 of these visas are far too few. Monterey County alone uses 5 percent of them. Panetta’s proposed legislation, called the Immigrant Victim Protection Act, aims to remove that cap.

“It’s these types of visas that give them the confidence to come out of the shadows and deal with entities that they’re not used to dealing with, they actually try to avoid, be it the police, be it law enforcement, be it halls of justice,” Panetta said.

As it is now, after applying for one of these visas, a crime victim lives in limbo. It typically takes three to four years for the visa approval. And after that, they could just wind up on a waiting list since the number of people who apply far exceeds the current limit.

So Panetta’s bill would also protect the undocumented immigrant from deportation and allow them to work while waiting. Immigration attorney Magnolia Zarraga says waiting that long can be dangerous.

“They’re afraid every day of maybe not coming home and being deported. They’re easier prey to be re-victimized,” Zarraga says.

Panetta’s bill also proposes similar protections for applicants of the T-Visa. That one is for undocumented victims of human trafficking.

Panetta plans to introduce the bill to Congress this week.

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