WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department said Tuesday it can’t promise that immigrants in the United States illegally won’t be arrested if they come forward to report they have been a victim of a crime or a witness to one.
The comments by Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan at a news briefing come amid concerns by local officials that Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents are making arrests in courthouses. They say that can deter some victims from reporting crimes or witnesses from cooperating in investigations.
Lapan said some victims and witnesses themselves are potentially criminal immigrants who may pose a threat to the country or who have been ordered out of the United States before.
He noted there are special visas, known as U visas, for immigrants in the country illegally who are victims of certain crimes, including sexual assault and domestic violence. Ten thousand of these visas are available annually.
Lapan also said immigration arrests in courthouses are necessary because some jurisdictions won’t cooperate with requests to alert the federal government before potentially deportable immigrants are released from jail or detained long enough for ICE agents to take them into federal custody.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also defended the practice in a letter last month to the chief justice of the California Supreme Court. “Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for arresting officers and persons being arrested are substantially decreased,” Kelly and Sessions wrote.
Some local official are already attributing a drop in reported crimes to President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said last month that his city has seen a 25 percent decrease in the number of sexual assaults reported by Latinos living in the city and a drop of about 10 percent in the number of reported domestic violence cases since Trump took office.
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