Immigrants who are victims of domestic violence, stalking, child abuse and sex trafficking will have a new set of statewide standards in place to guide their applications for certain types of visas.

Language in the $47.6 billion budget Gov. Charlie Baker signed Friday lays out a process for law enforcement to certify applicants for T- and U- visas, which provide legal status to certain victims of human trafficking or other crimes who help authorities investigate or prosecute the crimes.

The new law requires a decision within 90 days of the filing of a certification application, establishes clear guidelines for victim cooperation, and creates uniform oversight rules, but does not mandate that agencies approve certification, according to Rep. Tram Nguyen's office.

Nguyen, who with Rep. Patricia Haddad and Sen. Mark Montigny sponsored bills on which the budget language is based, said it will encourage victims and witness to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement while eliminating the fear of deportation.

"As an attorney, I worked with many survivors of domestic violence, as well as victims of crimes, including stalking and abuse," the Andover Democrat said in a statement. "Escaping this kind of violence is extremely difficult; it's even more so when the victim is an immigrant reliant on their abuser for their legal status in this country. This is how criminals get away with keeping their victims silent and compliant: by threatening them with deportation if they speak out, or even try to protect themselves."

When lawmakers passed the budget, Montigny called the protections "long overdue" and described them as particularly important "at a time when immigrants have been the target of intense fear mongering and attacks in our political discourse" and when advocates have reported spikes in domestic violence during the pandemic.

~ Katie Lannan/SHNS

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