Durham’s police chief says the agency will begin expanding which applications it certifies from undocumented immigrant crime victims seeking status through a U Visa.

U Visas, reserved for immigrants who are victims of certain types of crime and cooperate with law enforcement, give eligible people permission to work in the U.S. and a path to a green card. Law enforcement have to certify that the applicant has helped with the investigation.

Currently, it’s the Durham Police Department’s policy to certify applications related to crimes less than four years old, even if the case is inactive. Inactive applications related to crimes more than four years old are denied. Advocates who gathered in front of City Hall before Monday’s City Council meeting and spoke to the council inside asked that that time limit be lifted, bringing the city in line with Department of Homeland Security policy, which says there is no statute of limitations on eligible crimes.

Police Chief CJ Davis said the agency “will begin to expand to older requests in the very near future” now that the backlog of pending applications is going down – which she said has been her commitment since taking her position in 2016.

“I don’t think you could find a more sensitive leader on this issues than myself,” she said.

Her remarks were made during the department’s third quarter crime presentation. The number of applications received has grown significantly in previous years.

According to the department, it received forty-eight U Visa certification requests from July through September. Thirty-four certifications were certified and fourteen were denied. Davis said historically, most applications that were denied because of a lack of workable leads. Others were denied because the crime reported wasn’t one of the crimes eligible for U Visa status, like kidnapping, domestic violence and trafficking.

DPD 2018 3rd Quarter U-Visa… by on Scribd

Several people advocated before the council for lifting the time limit, including children who spoke on behalf of parents who commented in Spanish. Davis said she had met  before with some of those individuals, who dotted Monday’s crowd wearing purple shirts reading “Ya Basta. End U Visa Restrictions.”

The existing time limit, said speaker Alexandra Valladares, also a member of the Durham Human Relations Commission, tells some people “their experiences don’t matter.”

Under previous policy, crimes had to be no more than year old and had to have active leads for a case to be eligible. In addition to revising the policy in January, the department has also stepped up outreach related to the U-Visa process.

Not all departments certify U Visa applications. According to a 2014 study by UNC professors, fourteen agencies across the state had a blanket policy to never certify such requests. 

Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton called the U Visa policy revision “one of the greatest  steps to align our values with our actions.”

“This is a real turn-around from where we were a year ago,” added Mayor Steve Schewel. “I think our new policy has been productive and constructive.”

Applicants who receive U Visas may also be able to add family members to the visa. The federal government issues just ten thousand U-Visas to primary petitioners each year. At the end of fiscal year 2017, there were 110,000 pending applications. While an application is pending – a process that can take years – an applicant may get a work permit, but not necessarily protection from deportation.