Local News

Little-Known Law Lets Illegals Stay in Country for Court

Posted May 21, 2007 11:02 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2007 8:36 a.m. EDT

— With immigration laws squarely in the national spotlight, the nuances of the issue are being debated in every corner of the state.

According to prosecutors, there's one place illegal immigrants are needed: on the witness stand in the courtroom. Because they fear deportation, prosecutors say they often fail to show up to testify, even when they are victims of a crime.

There is, however, a legal remedy to the problem.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby met with members of the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh about the issue recently. As it turns out, there is a solution.

Under a law passed by Congress in 2000, illegal immigrants can apply for a "U" Visa which allows them to stay in the country while a case makes its way through the court system.

“I think it will make the difference in successfully solving and prosecuting crimes that currently we're not able to do,” Willoughby said.

Attracta Kelly, with the N.C. Justice Center, said that few prosecutors and law enforcement agencies know about the "U" Visa. She wants to get the word out.

“Your job as a law enforcement person should be to help them if they help you in bringing the perpetrator to justice,” Kelly said.

Because few people know about the "U" Visa, it is used sparingly. But it’s a very simple, three-page form that can be filled out by the individual with the help of an officer or prosecutor investigating a case. The form must be renewed yearly.

“We're excited about the possibility of being able to use that tool,” Willoughby said. “They don't have to fear coming to court to testify, that it’s not going to result in their deportation.”