Immigrants Sue Dept. of Homeland Security over Visas Immigrant victims of violent crime have filed a class-action lawsuit against the United States government, claiming the Department of Homeland Security ignores a law passed five years ago that guarantees visas for immigrants who cooperate with police in violent crime cases. Carrie Kahn reports


Immigrants Sue Dept. of Homeland Security over Visas

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I'm Alex Chadwick. This is DAY TO DAY.

In Los Angeles, lawyers are suing the federal government on behalf of thousands of illegal immigrants who are trying to combat violent crime. The suit is based on the premise that five years ago, Congress promised special visas if people here illegally would testify in court about these crimes, but no one's gotten any of these visas yet. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

Nine illegal immigrants are named as plaintiffs in the suit. Some are women and children victims of domestic abuse. One woman says she was mistreated and imprisoned while employed as a housekeeper in Beverly Hills. Alutario Rodriguez Ruiz(ph) says he was assaulted by a man brandishing a gun at a rest stop in a remote area near the Arizona-Mexico border. Rodriguez says he and six other illegal immigrants were held against their will for nearly a half-hour.

Mr. ALUTARIO RODRIGUEZ RUIZ (Illegal Immigrant): (Through Translator) The vigilante forced us out of the car. We were in one by one and he made us lay face down on the ground. He kept putting his gun to each of our heads saying he would shoot us if we didn't do as he said.

KAHN: Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Rodriguez says he gave a sworn testimony to sheriff's deputies and fully cooperated in the investigation. The assailant was not charged and later released; Rodriguez is now facing deportation.

Congress wrote a law five years ago granting so-called U visas for crime victims who assist police, but attorney for the plaintiffs Peter Schey says not one visa has since been issued. He says the Citizenship and Immigration Services hasn't even written the rules for how to apply for the visas.

Mr. PETER SCHEY (Attorney): This is something they've known about for over five years. There is simply no excuse for the agency to violate the law, and it's hard to understand how they could possibly expect immigrants to obey the law, criminals to obey the law when they themselves flaunt the law.

KAHN: Schey is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit on behalf of thousands of other illegal immigrant crime victims. Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, says since Congress passed the law, a number of obstacles have gotten in the way of writing the regulations.

Mr. BILL STRASSBERGER (Spokesman, US Citizenship and Immigration Service): We've not been able to make the progress that we would like to in the period of time that we've taken because there's just been a number of things that have impacted--change of administration, change of departments. It just makes it difficult.

KAHN: And he says the agency needs to make sure the regulations are concise and clear before issuing the visas. Strassberger says more than 3,000 people have applied for the special visas and have been given temporary permission to stay in the country.

But immigrant rights advocates say that's not enough security for a crime victim who is deciding whether to come forward or not. Joe Arpaio is the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona where Alutario Rodriguez was assaulted. He says law enforcement needs every tool to encourage victims to help in the prosecution of criminals.

Sheriff JOE ARPAIO (Maricopa County, Arizona): So we need that victim to be able to testify in court, then we should do everything to keep that person here in the United States.

KAHN: Arpaio says right now he has 13 unsolved murders of illegal immigrants in his county, and he can't get any witnesses to step forward. Victim Rodriguez says he hopes the government makes good on its promise to issue the visas soon.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: (Through Translator) I'm taking part in this federal lawsuit for myself, for my companions who were assaulted by the vigilante and also for the other immigrants who have been crime victims. I hope the suit will force the government to follow the law that it ignored for five years.

KAHN: Strassberger of the Citizenship and Immigration Service says he doesn't know when the regulations will be written. Alutario Rodriguez's deportation hearing is scheduled for next month. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.

CHADWICK: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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