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ACLU of Virginia Files “First-of-Its-Kind” Immigrant Lawsuit Against Roanoke Police Department

— March 14, 2024

In court documents, attorneys from the ACLU claimed that the Roanoke Police Department violated state law by refusing to respond to an immigrant’s request for a U visa certification.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has filed what it describes as a “first-of-its-kind” lawsuit against the Roanoke Police Department, which attorneys say brazenly flouted state law in refusing to certify an immigrant’s application for a “U” visa.

“Immigrant survivors of crime have rights,” said Sophia Gregg, an American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Immigrants’ Rights attorney. “Virginia law is very clear: police departments can’t arbitrarily refuse to issue U visa certifications any more than they could refuse to investigate the crimes that make people eligible for them.”

The U visa is a category of non-immigrant typically provided to non-citizens who have either been victims of crime or have information that could assist law enforcement in investigating a crime. Any decision to grant or deny a U-type visa is contingent on the immigrant obtaining a signed certification from a law enforcement officer, which provides information on the crime and the immigrant’s willingness to assist police personnel.

In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union stated that the plaintiff, a victim of domestic abuse, aided a Roanoke Police Department investigation against her partner. After the case concluded, the department provided a certification for her initial U visa.

A U.S. passport. Image by Ryan J. Farrick.

Under most circumstances, non-immigrants possessing a U-type visa may—upon fulfilling certain conditions—petition for a change in status to become lawful permanent residents. However, the ACLU claims that the plaintiff, who is now eligible to request an adjustment of status, has been unable to obtain another certification from the Roanoke Police Department.

In explaining its decision, the Roanoke Police Department allegedly told the woman that it is not “required by state or federal law” to respond to U visa certification requests.

Federal immigration policies explicitly allow local law enforcement agencies to exercise their own discretion when deciding whether to grant a certification request—but the American Civil Liberties Union contends that, under Virginia state law, police departments are obliged to both render a decision and provide an explanation.

“The Roanoke Police Department’s refusal to certify our client’s U visa certification request is thus both contrary to Virginia law and confounding, given its earlier certification of her U visa request,” the ACLU of Virginia wrote in its press release. “Virginia is home to 1.1 million immigrants who suffer crime at a rate of approximately 9.2 out of 1,000.”

“Congress,” the ACLU wrote, “created the U visa specifically to protect people whose immigration status made them reluctant to come forward for assistance from law enforcement.”


ACLU files first-of-its-kind immigration lawsuit against the Roanoke Police Department


ACLU sues Roanoke Police Department over immigrant’s visa situation

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