For undocumented immigrants in Philly, new policy offers another way to get visa

Justin Udo
October 24, 2019 - 4:51 pm
Philadelphia city officials discuss a new path for immigrants to get visas.

Justin Udo/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — There's a new path to get a visa for undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia who are victims of crime or need to report certain kinds of crimes, and officials say it will also help make the city safer.

Philadelphia's immigrant community makes up about 15 percent of the city's population, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Cynthia Figueroa. 

Often times, Figueroa explained, many undocumented people do not report crimes they experience or see for fear deportation or having their home split up.

"They may live in the silence and the fear of the violence that is being perpetrated against them," she said. 

"Our undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable, specifically survivors of domestic and sexual violence who may think they are isolated and they have no options," said the office's Azucena Ugarte.

The city recently rolled out a policy to help undocumented immigrants get their U visas and T visas, which are set aside for victims of abuse and human trafficking who help authorities in the investigation. 

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"It would help them get some kind of temporary immigration status, that then opens up options for them to be able to work, to be able to stay here protect their children, and access some kind of benefits," Ugarte added.  

Victims of crime can report to the city's Department of Human Services instead of going to the police or the district attorney, and the city won't share their information with the federal government, a practice Philadelphia has been doing already. 

To get U visas and T visas, applicants need an endorsement, which was previously provided only by the police or DA's office. With this new policy, DHS can now also give applicants endorsements, something undocumented immigrants may find to be a more ideal situation . 

Amy Eusebio with the city's Office of Immigrant Affairs says this visa can also help police clean up the streets.

"It's better for all of us, because then folks who are perpetrating these crimes can be held accountable for their actions," she added.

Officials say this program is a first of its kind in the Commonwealth.

The visa application for U visas or T visas does not automatically grant non-citizen crime victims visa status.