Advocates Call for Passage SB 32

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By: Ashmar Mandou

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights released a new report titled Unequal Protection: Disparate Treatment of Immigrant Victims in Cook, the Collar Counties, and Beyond during a press conference on Tuesday commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The report highlights disparities in law enforcement policies and practices related to U visa and T visa certifications across the state of Illinois. These visas, first created by Congress under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, were meant to address the under-reporting of crimes among undocumented immigrant survivors. In order to be eligible to apply for a U visa, these survivors must submit USCIS Form I-918B, a form completed and certified by local, state, or federal law enforcement officials verifying the survivor’s participation in the detection, investigation, and/or prosecution of the crime. ICIRR Senior Policy Counsel Fred Tsao explained that the report, based on surveys and interviews of legal and domestic violence survey providers from 26 counties and 70 municipalities across Illinois, is a crucial expansion on a 2014 report by the DePaul University Asylum and Immigration Clinic. “[The] report shows the importance of the U visa in keeping Illinois safe, and how the disparities of law enforcement practices throughout the state currently hinder a law that helps empower immigrant survivors,” said Tsao.

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In light of the new report and concerns expressed by community members, The Campaign For A Welcoming Illinois has begun working to pass SB 32, the Voices of Immigrant Communities Empowering Survivors (VOICES) Act. The VOICES Act would standardize the certification process across jurisdictions and ensure that survivors receive certifications in a timely fashion, ensuring that they are empowered and on a path to self-sufficiency. “The Illinois VOICES Act, SB 32, creates policies that will help guide law enforcement agencies when they respond to U visa certification requests, and help those law enforcement agencies ensure not only compliance with federal law, but also enhanced community trust and public safety,” said Trisha Teofilo Olave, Senior Legal Supervisor of the National Immigrant Justice Center. “It also supports survivors of crime by streamlining the U visa certification process and holding law enforcement accountable. SB 32 ensures that immigrant survivors will have equal access to the U visa throughout the state of Illinois.”

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The Vice President of Gender Violence Innovation and Evaluation at Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Estela Melgoza, also voiced her support for the bill, saying, “The immigrant survivors who we serve, many of whom are undocumented, face many barriers. Latina survivors are 50 percent less likely to ever report their abuse. Undocumented status gives abusers additional tools of power and control to keep victims isolated and intimidated. But one way to empower survivors of domestic violence and break the control of abusers is through U and T Visas. These visas are available to immigrant survivors who provide information or cooperate with the investigation or prosecution of a crime.” SB 32, which passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support in May, is now pending in the Illinois House, where advocates hope to move it forward during the upcoming fall veto session. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and State Representatives Theresa Mah and Lisa Hernandez attended the press conference to voice their support for the bill.

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