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March 12, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. – Today, the ACLU of Virginia filed 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 is refusing to certify in open defiance of state law.

“Immigrant survivors of crime have rights,” said ACLU of Virginia Immigrants’ Rights Attorney Sophia Gregg. “Virginia law is very clear: police departments can’t arbitrarily refuse to issue U visa certifications any more than they could refuse to investigate the crimes that make people eligible for 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 or prosecute 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 visas certification.

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

Yet the Roanoke Police Department refuses to comply with the law and certify our client’s request. When she submitted a request for recertification, the police department claimed that “we are not required by state or federal law” to respond to U visa certification requests.

That is patently false. 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 establishes a timeline by which agencies must respond, and it requires that every agency publish the procedures by which they will do so.

The Roanoke Police Department’s refusal to recertify our client’s U visa certification request is thus both contrary to Virginia law and confounding, given its earlier certification of her U visa request.

A successful outcome of this lawsuit would 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. 

The lawsuit is filed in the Circuit Court of Roanoke and will have a hearing within 30 days.