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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

DHS Protects Women and Girls, but More Can Be Done

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In a recent posting on the Department of Homeland Security blog, January Contreras, the DHS Ombudsman, describes the Department's efforts to help protect women and girls.  Some highlights:


In 2010, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) administered the full statutory allotment of 10,000 visas for victims of domestic crimes who participated in the investigation and prosecution of their perpetrators - for the first time.


Through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)'s Victim Assistance Program, 18 new full-time victim assistance specialists have been deployed to 17 ICE offices, in addition to 250 collateral duty Victim Assistance Coordinators, to provide continued guidance and support for victims of violent crimes.


The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center has deployed programs that train officers on protecting women and girls, including a web-based human trafficking training course and training on violence against women.


 


January Contreras: DHS Ombudsman

Ms. Contreras concludes, "While we are extremely proud of our accomplishments in the protection of women and girls, we know there is always the opportunity to do more."  "As a Department, we are committed to dedicating even more of our efforts to the security of women and girls in the years to come."


DHS should be commended for its efforts and accomplishments to protect women and girls.  As Ms. Contreras notes, there is more to be done.  Some suggestions:


DHS recently expanded the unit that adjudicates VAWA, T and U visas (victims of domestic violence, victims of human trafficking and victims of certain crimes, respectively) to approximately 100 officers.  Previously, officers elected to join the "VAWA unit," but it seems this practice has changed and officers are often rotated through the unit.  The results of this change have been mixed.  On the one hand, processing times have been reduced, which is certainly good news.  But on the other hand, expertise has gone down and the number of RFEs (Requests for Evidence) issued by the unit has increased as new officers learn the new areas of law.  These superfluous RFEs cause delay and reflect the lack of specialization of officers rotated through the unit.  One solution would be to go back to the previous model where the staff of the VAWA unit were permanent, chose to be in the unit, and were well-trained prior to starting in domestic violence and VAWA.  Such officers would be more specialized and would increase the quality of the work product.  


The Victims Assistance Program is an excellent program that assists victims, including victims of human trafficking many of whom are eligible for T and/or U visas.  However, very few U visas certifications seem to be signed by ICE agents.  DHS needs to do a better job of informing ICE agents about their ability to sign U visa certifications and the process for doing so.  DHS should do more to help ICE agents understand their role in the certification process.


Also, on the subject of U visas and certification, many local law enforcement officers do not understand the visa and how it was designed to help them investigate crimes.  DHS should do more to inform local law enforcement about U visa certifications and how to assist crime victims with their U visa applications.


Finally, with the rise of ICE detention in the United States, it is important that DHS put in place a framework to identify victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other violent crimes who may be eligible for immigration relief.  A system should exist so that such people can be connected with appropriate resources.  Ideally, this screening would occur prior to the issuance of an ICE detainer


While DHS's efforts to assist women and girls has been laudable, there are estimated to be about 100,000 children (under age 18) in the sex trade each year in the United States (it is not known how many are immigrants and how many are U.S. citizens).  In addition, there are likely several hundred thousand adults.  All of these people may not be victims of human trafficking, but many are.  Others may be victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes for which there may be immigration relief available.  Given the large numbers of victims, DHS and Congress should devote more resources to helping those in need.


Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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