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Illinois fails to protect immigrant victims of crime, report finds

Nell Salzman, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — Illinois is failing to protect immigrant victims of crime or trafficking, according to a new report from the University of Chicago. Those who work with migrants say the crimes against immigrants range from labor trafficking to forced sex acts.

The report released Thursday reveals widespread violations by the state’s law enforcement agencies of an act that attempts to provide greater access to protections for immigrants who are victims of crime or human trafficking.

Amid a migrant crisis in Chicago in which over 42,000 people have arrived in the city in nearly two years sent on buses from the southern border, the report shines a light on an intractable problem: that some will inevitably be victims of crime but won’t rely on police or law enforcement agencies for support because they’re worried they will face trouble with the law for their immigration status.

“They don’t know anything about the U.S. legal system. They don’t know anything about the immigration system. They may come from countries where they can’t trust the police,” said Nicole Hallett, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, who authored the report.

Hallett said the widespread lack of compliance with the 2019 act — Voices of Immigrant Communities Empowering Survivors — points to the fact that law enforcement agencies in Illinois are decentralized.

“It’s been five years,” she said. “But the fact … that there are still so many agencies that are out of compliance suggests that there’s some sort of breakdown.”


The VOICES Act was passed by the Illinois legislature five years ago and seeks to provide greater access to U and T visa programs. These visas promote immigrants’ cooperation with law enforcement without fear of deportation and allow recipients to apply for lawful permanent residence after three years.

To qualify for a U visa, an applicant must be a victim of a crime within the United States and have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result. U visas cover domestic violence and sexual assault, blackmail and extortion, among other crimes. T visas cover human trafficking.

Immigration advocates and researchers consider these visas essential to ensuring that victims of crime feel comfortable working with law enforcement without being penalized.

They say people who don’t have housing or can’t work legally are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. But there is little to no way to evaluate how many victims there are in any given community, said Erika Asgeirsson, who oversees the Counter-Trafficking Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center.


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