El Paso

Immigration laws protect illegal immigrants who have been victims of violence

Immigration laws protect illegal...

ABC-7 spoke with an immigration attorney who says there are laws that can protect illegal immigrants even if they have a criminal history.

"It's scary, it's incredibly frustrating, it's difficult for us as attorney's because there's not anything I can tell people that everything is going to be OK," Melissa Lopez said.

Lopez is talking about the effects of the recent wave of illegal immigrants taken into custody.

Lopez is executive director and attorney at Diocesan Migrant and refugee services. the organization provides immigration legal services in the region. The services include family-based immigration and matters related survivors of domestic violence and other crimes.

Lopez told ABC-7 the recent arrest of Ervin Gonzalez, a transgender victim of abuse seeking lawful protection; although in the U.S. illegally and with a criminal record is sending a wrong message.

"When you have a situation like where ICE went to the court house and arrested a victim at a protective order hearing, all that's going to do is discourage people from calling the police," Lopez said.

So are there measures that protect those in the U.S. illegally and with a criminal record?

"There are two things that protect victims of domestic violence and of crime. The first one is the Violence Against Women Act," Lopez told ABC-7.

Lopez said anyone who is married to a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen and you are the victim of physical or emotional abuse you can apply for the Violence Against Women Act.

"There's also something called the U visa which is for survivors of domestic violence and other crimes. That one is a little more broad in scope," Lopez said.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services the U visa is: Intended to help victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.

"When they call the police and report crimes and they are involved in the prosecution of cases that ultimately results in safer communities for everybody," Lopez said.

Lopez told ABC-7 in most cases a judge will weigh out the victim's criminal history and balance that with the victimization.

Lopez also added Immigration and Customs agents cannot act on tips from abusers or aggressors. 

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