Visas available for victims of trafficking, domestic violence

Victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and other serious crimes who cooperate with law enforcement may be eligible for special visas, federal authorities said Tuesday.

The federal Violence Against Women Act allows victims to seek a visa without their domestic abuser's knowledge or assistance, said Amany Ezeldin, an adjudications officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

"This is actually very important as one of the tools of abuse and control that abusers use is this ability or this sponsorship of immigration status," Ezeldin said. "So the VAWA sort of takes that tool of abuse out of the hands of the abuser."

More than 7,000 women across the nation received visas under the Violence Against Women Act last year.

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Federal immigration officials are training Twin Cities law enforcement and members of community groups to make them aware of special visas for victims of trafficking, domestic abuse or other serious crimes. That could give people suffering from abuse the tools they need to become survivors, officials said.

Mike Netherland, special agent in charge for Homeland Security investigations in the region that includes Minnesota, said victims often don't know help is available.

To help inform them, federal officials are spreading the word that immigrants who are victims of crimes can seek assistance.

"Human trafficking is an especially secretive crime, and the traffickers do everything they can to program their victims to be fearful of law enforcement agencies," Netherland said. "That is why we need the help of the media and the help of the general public."

Signs that a person may be a victim of human trafficking include a lack of identification or travel documents, restrictions on their movement and communication, and threats that they will be reported to law enforcement or deported.