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Undocumented Immigrant Victims of Crime: Know Your Rights

What undocumented immigrants who are also victims of crime should know.


By Shani Adess
January 27, 2017

At Safe Horizon, we believe that a person’s legal status should not be a barrier to one’s ability to seek help, obtain justice, and live a life free from violence. Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project (ILP) is staffed with trained and experienced attorneys that advocate on behalf of immigrant survivors of crime, torture, or abuse in New York City. The statements and conversations around immigration during the recent presidential election have sparked numerous concerns, which I will address in the following blog post.

What Changes Has ILP Seen Since the 2016 Presidential Election?

We have received many calls from clients and others in our community who have expressed increased concern and anxiety. It is very important that anyone with questions speaks with a qualified legal representative. Talking to an immigration law expert can help one to better understand their rights, evaluate their and their families’ eligibility for permanent immigration relief, and create a safety plan to protect them and their children should any issues regarding their immigration status arise in the future.

It is also important to remember that we do not yet know if any changes will take place after January 20th. Nevertheless, we are working hard to ensure that we are able to quickly respond to any changes that might occur, and will continue to promote and protect the rights of undocumented immigrants in our community.

Should Undocumented Immigrant Victims of Crime Still Feel Comfortable Seeking Help If They Need It?

For victims of violence or abuse, nothing is more important than safety. Every individual has a right to live free from harm, abuse, and violence. Local, city, and state agencies in New York firmly support all peoples’ rights to have access to services to ensure their safety. This includes access to; emergency shelter, emergency health care, courts to seek orders of protection, law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Since 2003 New York has been a “Sanctuary City.” This means that city agencies are not authorized to report people who seek assistance to immigration authorities. These agencies include New York Police Department (NYPD), Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Family Courts. In recent weeks, local and city agencies, our Mayor, and our Governor, have all reasserted their commitment to protecting undocumented immigrants in our communities.

If you are afraid and need help call one of our three 24-hour hotlines that operate seven days a week, 365 days a year. Advocates are standing by right now to help you.

  • For help with domestic violence, please call our domestic violence hotline: 800-621HOPE (4673).
  • For help with all crimes, including support for family members of homicide victims, please call: 866-689-HELP (4357).
  • For help with rape and sexual assault, please call: 212-227-3000.
    • Or call NYC’s 311
    • In an emergency, call 911

What Is DACA And What Will Happen to DACA Under the New Administration?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a temporary immigration benefit created through an Executive Order by President Obama. DACA gives undocumented immigrants that meet certain criteria the ability to obtain employment authorization and protection from deportation. DACA has enabled undocumented immigrants to continue their education, obtain jobs, and advance their careers.

We are hopeful that policy makers will recognize the positive contributions that DACA has made possible,  and will advocate for its continuation. However, given the adversarial statements made during the election, we do not recommend that people submit new applications for DACA at this time.

For people who currently have DACA and who want to renew their status, we recommend speaking with an attorney in advance about the risks and the practicalities of whether their applications would be evaluated prior to any change in law.

What Can I do to Best Protect Myself and My Family?

Immigration law is complex, and it is important to seek qualified legal advice if you have any questions. One of the best things someone can do is to create a safety plan in the event that they are apprehended and/or arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has created a fantastic guide to creating a family preparedness plan that includes arranging for childcare, keeping a list of important information for caregivers as well as access to legal documents or accounts they may need, and ensuring that your family or friends know who to contact and what to do if you are detained.

Read ILRC’s Family Preparedness Guide Here.

What Else Should I Know?

You have rights! Immigrants, regardless of their status, have rights and protections afforded to them under the law, including the right to due process. So what does this mean?

  • Someone with a previously approved application for permanent status is not at risk of losing their status based on any possible future changes in law and policy;
  • Someone with a pending application for immigration relief will be given an opportunity to have their eligibility for such relief to be evaluated and determined;
  • Someone who does not have permanent status or a pending application, must be given their due process rights, including the opportunity to present any claim for immigration relief before an immigration judge;
  • Someone who is afraid of being returned to their country of origin must, in most circumstances, be given an opportunity to be heard regarding that fear before being removed.
    • If you are afraid to return to your country of origin for any reason, be sure to affirmatively state this to the immigration officer or official speaking with you.

Someone with a prior deportation order is more at risk of immediate removal, so we recommend that if anyone has been previously removed from the United States and/or has an arrest record (even without convictions) in the United States, they seek legal advice as soon as possible as they may be more at risk for future immigration action.

Why Is It Important to Speak with an Immigration Lawyer?

There is a lot of fraud and misinformation being spread by non-legal advocates urging people to file applications for which they may not be eligible. This may put people more at risk, and it is important that they speak with a legitimate service provider before submitting any application to immigration.

ILP remains dedicated and committed to promoting and protecting the rights of the vibrant and diverse immigrant communities that provide so much to our city and country.  We will continue to stand with them, and with survivors of crime throughout New York City. If you have questions, or in need of assistance, please contact our intake hotline at 718-943-8634 (M-F 9am – 5pm). For further resources or information please visit our ILP page.

Additional Immigration Resources:

Help Protect Immigrant Victims of Violence

Safe Horizon stands with all immigrants, all survivors of violence, and all people who have been marginalized. Please stand with us, as we advocate and make clear: all humans are equal and deserve a life free from violence.

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