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May 17, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. – Today the ACLU of Virginia and Roanoke Police Department entered into a settlement agreement in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit on behalf of an immigrant survivor of domestic violence whose request for a U visa certification the Roanoke Police Department had previously refused to certify despite clear state law. 

The settlement resulted in the Roanoke Police Department agreeing to recertify our client’s U visa petition – and, as importantly, to adopting a U visa certification policy that ensures the department responds to all requests for certifications in a consistent manner. The new policy is currently available on the City of Roanoke’s website. 

"Immigrant survivors of crime have rights in Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Immigrants’ Rights Attorney Sophia Gregg. “Police departments should not arbitrarily refuse to issue U visa certifications, and thanks to today’s settlement, immigrants in Roanoke will finally get what the law promises them.” 

The U nonimmigrant visa, or U visa, is a form of immigration relief for noncitizen survivors of violent crimes or human trafficking. When people harmed by qualifying criminal activity cooperate with law enforcement agencies to investigate that crime, the U visa provides them with a pathway to citizenship. 

In 2012, our client aided the Roanoke Police Department’s investigation and prosecution of her partner, who physically abused her. After the conclusion of her case, the police department provided her with a U visa certification. 

When our client became eligible to adjust her status to become a lawful, permanent resident, she was required to obtain a recertification of her U visa from the Roanoke Police Department to demonstrate that she had participated in the investigation of the crime that harmed her. 

Yet the Roanoke Police Department refused to certify our client’s request, claiming it is “not required by state or federal law” to respond to U visa certification requests. That was false as in 2021, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law requiring local law enforcement agencies to respond to U visa certification requests by either certifying or denying them with a written explanation for why the applicant does not qualify. The law additionally established a timeline by which agencies must respond, and it requires that every agency publish the procedures by which they will do so. 

Today’s settlement will affect not only our client, but all applicants for U visas in Roanoke. Virginia is home to 1.1 million immigrants who suffer harm from a crime at rate of approximately 9.2 out of 1,000. 

Congress created the U visa specifically to protect people whose immigration status made them reluctant to come forward for assistance from law enforcement.