By Bob Katzen

The Senate gave initial approval to legislation that would provide victims of violent crime and human trafficking enhanced protections under the law. The bill standardizes the process for law enforcement, prosecution, judicial and investigatory agencies to provide noncitizen victims, who have been helpful in the investigation or prosecution of serious crimes, with the certification form they need to apply for a U-visa or T-visa.

In 2000, Congress created the U-visas and T-visas as part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to help immigrant victims come forward to law enforcement. As part of this visa process, a state or local government agency must complete a visa certification form, certifying that the applicant is a victim of a violent crime or trafficking and that person was helpful in the investigation or prosecution of said crime.

Supporters said that 13 states have implemented statewide standards for visa certifications but noted the standards around victim certification are still inconsistent across Massachusetts.

“Human trafficking is a vicious crime and modern-day version of slavery that has little understanding amongst the general public both locally and globally,” said Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) who sponsored an earlier version of the proposal. “Many victims are vulnerable women or children with very few financial resources and are lured into trafficking with false promises of economic opportunity and prosperity. Many victims are also immigrants who may fear retaliation from their trafficker should they seek to contact law enforcement or any other resource for help.”

“This bill makes a tremendous difference in the lives of immigrant survivors at such a critical moment during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Julie Dahlstrom, Director and Clinical Associate Professor at the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program at Boston University School of Law. “It sends a clear signal to immigrant survivors, who are often fearful to report to law enforcement, that they can step forward to report violent crime and human trafficking and access important protections.”

“As a former legal services attorney, I helped hundreds of victims of crimes with various legal issues and saw firsthand just how important it is to pass laws that would increase victim and witness participation in the criminal legal system,” said Rep. Tram Nguyen (D-Andover), a sponsor of an earlier version of the measure. “This bill will not only promote justice and keep victims safe, but it will also help law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes and enhance public safety for everyone in our communities.”

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