Dayton aims to help illegal immigrant crime victims

Dayton City Commission this week approved a $30,000 contract with a local law firm, aimed at improving communication with illegal immigrants who may be victims of crime.

“If individuals are undocumented, there is a significant deterrent for them potentially to report crime,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said. “As I’ve said many, many times, if you want crime to grow in a community, just have people too afraid to report it.”

Federal law provides “U-Visa” status for some undocumented immigrants who are victims of crime. If the victim helps law enforcement authorities investigate and prosecute the offender, they can apply for a U-Visa, which grants four years of lawful immigration status, plus the ability to apply for permanent residency.

Dayton’s new contract with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality will cover the firm’s costs to pursue U-Visa status in Dayton crime cases. Biehl said ABLE worked on at least six U-Visa cases in Dayton in the past year, and he said the city “absolutely knows” there are more cases where a person has not come forward.

“We had an individual about a year or so ago brutally beaten and literally left for dead, who was undocumented,” Biehl said. “The reason this was reported is … the person literally had to crawl to the door of a house to call for help.”

ABLE also will hold several educational meetings in the city to educate immigrants about the U-Visa process and about interacting with police. Under orders from Biehl, Dayton Police officers do not investigate suspects’ immigration status except in the case of “the most serious offenders” and are prohibited from asking the immigration status of crime victims or witnesses.

City Commissioners Matt Joseph and Joey Williams applauded the contract. Williams called it a great example of the city’s support of the Welcome Dayton initiative. Joseph said the city has to get past crime victims’ fears about being deported.

“That’s bad for the community in general, because if people aren’t reporting crime, the bad guys aren’t going to get caught,” Joseph said.

Steve Salvi, founder of the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC, said Dayton’s plan has problems, arguing that without positively identifying a victim, police could put a dangerous person on the path to U.S. citizenship. He also said U-Visas could lead illegal immigrants to file exaggerated police reports in order to get legal residency, and questioned whether Dayton citizens receive the same attention when they are crime victims.

Biehl said most of Salvi’s concerns are solved simply by solid police investigation, saying that Dayton police would discover whether a report was falsified or whether a crime victim was also a criminal. He said Dayton citizens also have access to victim advocacy organizations through grants that the city has pursued.

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