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The DSK Effect: Immigrant Victims Fear Reporting Crimes

Christy Carnegie Fujio, JD, MA, and Jessica Kurtz on August 25, 2011

This week, sexual assault charges against former IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, were dropped due to concerns about the credibility of his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo. The inconsistency of Diallo’s narrative, as well as lies contained in her asylum application, led the prosecution to conclude that its case was in jeopardy. Due to the attack on her credibility, the truth regarding what happened in that Manhattan hotel room will never be known. What does this mean for other immigrants who fall victim to crime in the US?

Immigrant victims of crime often fear that reporting incidents to the police may draw attention to their immigration status. Fearing deportation, many victims remain silent instead of collaborating with law enforcement officials to prosecute criminals. The federal government attempted to address this problem by introducing the U-visa program as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. Under the program, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes are able to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement without fear of deportation. However, many immigrants are not aware of the U-visa and law enforcement officials are not well trained in the use of it as a crime-fighting tool. Therefore, the efficacy of the program is questionable: although 10,000 U-visas are available per year, less than 8,000 were granted in 2010.

On Monday, the Obama Administration announced a policy which will suspend deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety – including individuals who have reported a crime. In June, the Morton Memo was issued and states that ICE will not initiate removal proceedings against an individual known to be the victim or witness to a crime. Both of these developments are positive steps toward the protection of immigrant crime victims; however, the effects remain to be seen. 

Crime affects entire communities, not just individuals. Criminal offenders tend to be recidivists – repeating their crimes until they are caught and convicted. If immigrant victims are unwilling to report crimes for fear of deportation, we will all feel the impact. Until immigrants feel safe and empowered to work with police to identify and prosecute criminals, the safety of all Americans will be at risk.

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