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Human trafficking victims eligible for special visas, officials say

( From Denver Post ) - By Ryan Parker


Many victims of human trafficking fear law enforcement, which keeps them from seeking help or trying to escape their captors, immigration officials say.


To combat that notion, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is trying to educate the public, emergency responders, police and others about programs and tools that can protect and help victims who are in the country illegally.


"While this is a national effort, it is also a local initiative," said USCIS district director Robert Mather.


Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said the issue hits close to home. "It (fear of law enforcement) is a problem in Colorado and the rest of the country."


Human trafficking involves the sale, exchange, barter or lease of a person for labor or sex acts. Trafficking adults is a class 3 felony unless those trafficked are illegally in the country, in which case trafficking is a class 2 felony. Trafficking in children is a class 2 felony, according to the office of the Colorado attorney general.


Often victims of human trafficking are coerced into believing police should be feared and that deportation is the ultimate result of escape, Mather said.


Part of the education campaign includes providing information about two protective visas for which victims may be eligible, USCIA adjudications officer Scott Whelan said.


The T nonimmigrant visa allows victims of severe forms of human trafficking to remain in the country for up to four years. Visas are available to victims who help law enforcement with investigations or prosecution.


The U nonimmigrant visa is for victims who suffer severe physical or mental abuse as a result of certain criminal activities, which includes trafficking. Victims must assist in the law enforcement investigationd.


"Those visas can be rescinded if fraud or any other issue is discovered," Whelan said.


Congress created the T and U nonimmigrant statuses in October of 2000 when it passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.


Those applying for the visas must not have a criminal record or they have to obtain a waiver of admissibility, Whelan said.


Other aid includes help from organizations, such as The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, which works with men, women and children concerning their immigration proceedings.


Denver is one of 30 cities across the country immigration officials are visiting in hopes of raising awareness of victim options.


Published with permission of the author.

Ryan Parker: 303-954-2409, rparker@denverpost.comor