Public Comments for: SB1468 - Victims of crime; certifications for victims of qualifying criminal activity.
Last Name: DeBoard Organization: Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) Locality: Herndon

The VACP supports SB 1329. We feel that the passage of this bill will eliminate unnecessary and avoidable confrontations with citizens. The refusal of an individual to sign a summons does not negate their responsibility to either prepay their fine or appear in court at the listed date and time. We feel this is a positive piece of legislation in line with other police reform bills. The VACP supports the concept of SB 1468 but continues to have concerns about language in a specific part of this bill. The bill states that we have to sign these certification forms if the applicant is a victim of a qualifying crime. There are two other reasons we can and are expected to deny signing a U-Visa certification form: if the victim failed to cooperate or they have been involved and convicted in serious crimes themselves. The language in question is found in lines 66-70, which states: “If the certifying official cannot determine whether the applicant is a victim of qualifying criminal activity or determines that the applicant does not qualify, the certifying official shall provide a written explanation to the person or the person's representative setting forth reasons why the available evidence does not support a finding that the person is a victim of qualifying criminal activity.” What needs to be added to the end of this sentence is “… or otherwise does not qualify.” This additional language is needed to provide chiefs or other certifying authorities the ability to deny signing these forms when they don’t meet any one of the qualifications, not just whether they are a victim of a certifying crime. For example, we cannot sign a form knowing a victim has not cooperated or refused to cooperate just because they were a victim. The code section needs to be more clear here to ensure we are not being required to put our signatures on a form when we know that someone fails one of the tests to qualify. We want to help our immigrant communities and provide them fair and consistent access to this federal process and we support requiring that agencies have a process in place to process these certification forms and publicly post these procedures. We do, however, want to ensure we are not making this process subject to additional abuse and fraud. We cannot sign these forms simply because they were a victim of a qualifying crime. They must also meet the other standards at the time that the forms are presented to us. From an integrity standpoint, we cannot put our signatures on a form that supports someone who we know is not cooperating

Last Name: Dana Schrad Organization: Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Foundation, Inc. Locality: Glen Allen

The VACP supports the concept of this bill but continues to have concerns about language in a specific part of this bill. We previously asked that this language be addressed. The bill states that we have to sign these certification forms if the applicant is a victim of a qualifying crime. There are two other reasons we can and are expected to deny signing a U-Visa certification form: if the victim failed to cooperate or they have been involved and convicted in serious crimes themselves. The language in question is found in lines 66-70, which states: “If the certifying official cannot determine whether the applicant is a victim of qualifying criminal activity or determines that the applicant does not qualify, the certifying official shall provide a written explanation to the person or the person's representative setting forth reasons why the available evidence does not support a finding that the person is a victim of qualifying criminal activity.” What needs to be added to the end of this sentence is “… or otherwise does not qualify.” This additional language is needed to provide chiefs or other certifying authorities the ability to deny signing these forms when they don’t meet any one of the qualifications, not just whether they are a victim of a certifying crime. For example, we cannot sign a form knowing a victim has not cooperated or refused to cooperate just because they were a victim. The code section needs to be more clear here to ensure we are not being required to put our signatures on a form when we know that someone fails one of the tests to qualify. We want to help our immigrant communities and provide them fair and consistent access to this federal process and we support requiring that agencies have a process in place to process these certification forms and publicly post these procedures. We do, however, want to ensure we are not making this process subject to additional abuse and fraud. We cannot sign these forms simply because they were a victim of a qualifying crime. They must also meet the other standards at the time that the forms are presented to us. From an integrity standpoint, we cannot put our signatures on a form that supports someone who we know is not cooperating.

Last Name: DeBoard Organization: Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) Locality: Herndon

The VACP supports the concept of this bill but continues to have concerns about language in a specific part of this bill. We previously asked that this language be addressed but it has not been amended. The bill says we have to sign these certification forms if the applicant is a victim of a qualifying crime. There are two other reasons we can and are expected to deny signing a U-Visa certification form: if the victim failed to cooperate or they have been involved and convicted in serious crimes themselves. Lines 66-70 state: “If the certifying official cannot determine whether the applicant is a victim of qualifying criminal activity or determines that the applicant does not qualify, the certifying official shall provide a written explanation to the person or the person's representative setting forth reasons why the available evidence does not support a finding that the person is a victim of qualifying criminal activity.” What needs to be added to the end of this sentence is “… or otherwise does not qualify.” This additional language is needed to provide chiefs or other certifying authorities the ability to deny signing these forms when they don’t meet any one of the qualifications, not just whether they are a victim of a certifying crime. For example, we cannot sign a form knowing a victim has not cooperated or refused to cooperate just because they were a victim. The code section needs to be more clear here to ensure we are not being required to put our signatures on a form when we know that someone fails one of the tests to qualify. We want to help our immigrant communities to have access to this process and we support requiring that agencies have a process in place to process these certification forms and publicly post these procedures. We do, however, want to ensure we are not making this process subject to additional abuse and fraud. We cannot sign these forms simply for them qualifying. They must meet the other standards at the time that the forms are presented to us. From an integrity standpoint, I cannot put my signature on a form that supports someone who I know is not cooperating.

Last Name: Larios Organization: Murray Osorio PLLC Locality: FAIRFAX

My name is Cindy Larios and I'm an immigration attorney in Fairfax, VA. I'm here today to speak in support of SB 1468. Prior to moving back to my home state of Virginia, I was practicing law in Chicago, IL, working primarily with survivors of human trafficking and sexual assault. In 2018, IL passed the VOICES act, which is similar to the bill proposed today. The VOICES act was proposed and passed because throughout IL, victims of these horrific crimes were being largely ignored by law enforcement agencies in certain regions of the state. Prior to the VOICES act, advocates were met with a great deal of resistance from certain law enforcement agencies when requesting a certification. Resistance ranging from a lack of training or understanding of the certification which caused agencies to not have protocols in place to assist victims, to outright refusals to entertain certification requests based on bipartisan opinions on immigration. These are issues which we here in Virginia encounter every day when assisting victims. Since the VOICES Act passed in Illinois, some of the most important improvements we saw in included that: 1) counties and agencies that previously refused to cooperate with victims and advocates started to respond. This created an open line of communication with law enforcement agencies and allowed for training on the issues; 2) some rural counties have used the VOICES act as a blueprint to better support and engage the immigrant victims of crime in their jurisdiction; 3) even when certifications are denied, giving a victim a reason why has been incredibly helpful not just for the victim but also for the law enforcement agencies. One notable reason is that it has allowed for criminal cases to be re-opened when lack of victim cooperation was due to a simple mistake in the noted contact information. I want these same improvements for Virginia. Just a few weeks ago, I received a denial of certification request for a Virginia resident who was the victim of domestic violence. This victim reported one of the many assaults, obtained an order of protection, and assisted in the prosecution of her abuser. After receiving the denial, I called the police department and was bounced around to two officers who each told me they were not aware why the request was denied. One officer however, stated he would look into it and get back to me. I then received an email from him ending with, “this Police Department does not offer an explanation for the decision to sign or to not sign a certification.” Our victims simply deserve more.

End of Comments