This article by Mike Moen originally appeared on Public News Service on July 1, 2021. You can find the original here.
ST PAUL, Minn. - For an immigrant who is a victim of a crime, seeking justice can be especially difficult. Minnesota lawmakers are making that process easier in a move supporters say removes a level of fear.
The federal government has a way for foreign nationals, who have been victimized by serious crimes, to protect their legal status if they cooperate with law enforcement.
They can apply for what's known as a U visa, designed to encourage them to come forward without fear of deportation or retaliation.
But Veena Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said there's been issues in seeing this component utilized around the state.
"One of the requirements for the U visa is a certification from law enforcement with regard to that cooperation," said Iyer. "And unfortunately, we've seen in Minnesota that there have been instances where law enforcement hasn't timely responded to those requests for certification. "
She said that delay can make survivors feel even more isolated in cases of domestic violence or human trafficking.
New language included in a public safety spending bill sets deadlines for police to issue a certification.
Some GOP lawmakers questioned if this allows people to exploit the process. But supporters say there are safeguards.
The move coincides with the Biden administration's step to provide work permits for those with a pending U visa application, amid a massive backlog.
Iyer cited many reasons why it's been hard for law enforcement to issue these certifications, including a lack of understanding about the process. But she said she hopes this prompts more survivors to come forward and see their cases solved.
"Our hypothesis would be that over the next several years, this is going to be a really great tool for law enforcement," said Iyer. "And then, of course, also a really great protection for victims. "
In addition to setting deadlines, law-enforcement agencies have to identify a point person for issuing certifications, while implementing protocols for language access.
The legislative effort was led by Rep. Sandra Feist - DFL-New Brighton - who says it provides "transparency and consistent timelines." The spending bill was expected to be signed by the governor.