Hennepin County prosecutors smooth path for crime victim immigration visas

woman in gray blazer speaks at lectern
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty announced the new immigrant visa policy alongside victim and immigrant advocates Wednesday at the Midtown Global Market.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Hennepin County prosecutors are making it easier for non-citizens who are victims of crime to get special temporary visas.

U and T visas, which Congress approved in the early 2000s, allow victims of certain crimes including sexual assault, domestic violence and labor trafficking to remain in the United States as long as they aid investigators. But County Attorney Mary Moriarty, who took office in 2023, said her predecessors rarely processed them.

“When I came in, I said: ‘What do we do if a victim starts to talk about a visa or immigration or something like that?’ And the response I got was: ‘we shut down that conversation.’”

Moriarty, who appeared alongside immigrant and victim advocates at a Wednesday news conference at Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, said victims are more likely to help prosecutors if they’re allowed to stay in the United States legally.

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Assistant County Attorney Eder Castillo said that historically, the office rarely processed U and T visas, and usually only after a case was resolved.

"Victims would have to wait until their case had ended,” Castillo said. “That meant that victims were left anxiously wondering if they would be deported during the process of their case.”

Castillo also said under the new policy, the office will process visas for crime victims even if they’re not testifying in cases that are being prosecuted by the county attorney’s office.

“This includes, for example domestic violence where victims are asking for orders of protection, but there’s not necessarily a criminal case in existence,” Castillo said. “This includes victims of qualifying crimes that are being prosecuted by city attorneys, as opposed to our office, but are happening in our county.”

woman in green blazer speaks into mic
PaHoua Vang, interim executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Castillo added that the office is expediting visas for crime victims who are facing deportation, and will no longer review victims’ criminal history because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security already conducts nationwide criminal history reviews of visa applicants.

The office is also providing victim services that are accessible to non-English speakers.

PaHoua Vang, the interim executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the new policy is a step in the right direction.

“We know that sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime, and a person’s immigration status can create additional barriers to ever accessing help,” Vang said.

The county attorney's office is holding community meetings starting March 12 at the Midtown Global Market to answer questions about the new policy.