Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar made national headlines by opening a criminal investigation into the recent flights arranged by Florida of undocumented migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. I have previously written about the dubious claims of kidnapping and human trafficking made by figures like Hillary Clinton. Now, however, Salazar is certifying the roughly 50 individuals as “crime victims” despite the lack of any criminal charges in order to qualify them for visas. While this is clearly not human trafficking, Salazar is working with immigration advocates to use a law designed to protect victims of human trafficking and other crimes, even before any such charge is brought by prosecutors. The move could be denounced as itself an inducement, even a political exploitation, of migrants who must cooperate with an investigation to qualify. Immigration advocates were only able to get three migrants to join the initial challenge.
Salazar opened a criminal investigation into Governor DeSantis based on the allegation that the Venezuelans were “lured under false premises” to leave the Migrant Resource Center in Bexar County to fly to Florida. Three filed a complaint against the state. Florida has responded with signed waivers by the migrants.
While no criminal charges have been filed, Salazar is working with Massachusetts immigration advocates seeking to secure “U visas” for the migrants based on their alleged status as victims of crime or witnesses to criminal acts. Given the small percentage of the migrants who joined the initial lawsuit, the inducement of the U Visa program could change the situation.
In order to qualify, the migrants must claim that, being given free passage to the East Coast, qualified as “substantial physical or mental abuse.” That would be highly challengeable, but it would be up to the Biden Administration.
Florida could object that Salazar is himself inducing the participation of the migrants by certifying U Visa for cooperating with the investigation. While he is suggesting that all 50 will be declared crime victims, they might be induce to support the claims to qualify under the program.
The U Visa program was created by Congress with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000. It is meant to enhance the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of noncitizens and other crimes. It also protects victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse due to the crime. They are expected to assist law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.
Under the program, eligibility requires that:
You have information about the criminal activity. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may possess the information about the crime on your behalf (see glossary for definition of ‘next friend’).
You were helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If you are under the age of 16 or unable to provide information due to a disability, a parent, guardian, or next friend may assist law enforcement on your behalf.
Thus, the visa could be an inducement for the other migrants to join efforts by immigration advocates in Massachusetts who were only able to secure three migrants in the initial filing.
In most cases, the certification under the U Visa program before a charge is not particularly controversial. However, Salazar’s claims of crimes like human trafficking and kidnapping are, in my view, wildly off-base. There are other allegations of misuse of pandemic funds, though various blue states have been accused of similar violations.
The Biden Administration has launched an investigation through Treasury into the funds, but that is not likely to be a criminal matter. Moreover, Florida insists that it consulted with Treasury.
Salazar has had controversies as sheriff, including (ironically) improper transfers of inmates.
It is not clear if the Biden Administration will oppose giving these undocumented migrants visas, but the basis for the certification could be used as a major avenue for legalization of status by cooperating local law enforcement.