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Back in 2000, Congress did a good thing. It made it possible for undocumented immigrants who were victims of domestic violence to get a special visa -- called "U visa" -- to encourage victims to come forward and get help. It's a pretty smart program, except it has one little problem: Local prosecutors decide whether to process the victim's applications, and some local prosecutors are assholes, like the district attorney for Gaston County, North Carolina, who has the Ultimate Southern DA name of Locke Bell. Mr. Bell decided, all on his own, to reject a U visa application from a pregnant woman whose boyfriend punched her in the stomach, and he offered this flawless reason: He's pretty sure the law "was never intended to protect Latinos from Latinos." Why, that's just silly -- only commies think illegal immigrants are real people.


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The case involves a Honduran woman named Evelin, who pressed charges against her boyfriend after he assaulted her. At the same time, she applied for the U visa, which would have given her the right to stay in the U.S. for four years, plus the chance to apply for permanent residency. Unfortunately, she ran up against the unique legal philosophy of Locke Bell, who explained to the Charlotte Observer why he won't ever approve a U visa application for illegals like Evelin:

Bell said that if a crime victim is Latino and the accused is also Latino, he will not certify visa applications that come through his office. Evelin came to North Carolina from Honduras, and her ex-boyfriend is from Mexico [...]

In an interview, Bell said he would only certify cases for Latino immigrants who are victimized by non-Latino assailants.

He said Congress passed the law to protect immigrants, who often move into crime-prone neighborhoods and fear deportation if they call police.

“It was never intended to protect Latinos from Latinos,” Bell said. “It was designed to protect them from high-crime areas.”

Locke Bell is actually full of shit -- the law says absolutely nothing about race or ethnicity -- but he also is free to be as full of shit as he wants to be, since the law that set up the program, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, didn't quite anticipate how completely assholish a local prosecutor might decide to be. Deborah Weissman, a law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, called Bell's justification of his actions "an astounding statement ... There is no context that could provide a legal justification for it,” and said that Bell might be in violation of federal laws banning racial discrimination. Then again, maybe he'll get a commendation from Fox News for getting tough on immigrants, even the crime-victim ones.

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Similarly, Michael Moore (not that one!), the president of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), called Bell's position unethical, telling Latin Times, “I can’t even find the words to describe [what Bell reportedly did]... unprofessional is enough... despicable might be close,” and noting that if Bell were a member of NDAA, his actions could be cause for expulsion from the organization.

Unfortunately, as the Charlotte Observer found, no one in higher office seems to be inclined to do anything about Bell:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that oversees the program, says it has no power to force Bell to change his practice. In a written statement, the agency said prosecutors and other law enforcement officials are under no legal obligation to certify paperwork for immigrants. The rules give local law enforcement complete discretion over which cases they will verify, the federal agency said.

The ACLU is at least seriously pissed, noting that "Bell’s decision has nothing to do with the lawful exercise of discretion: It is blatant ethnic discrimination that USCIS and federal civil rights officials should have condemned in the strongest terms."

The ACLU also noted a UNC-Chapel Hill study that found that Bell is far from alone in taking an idiosyncratic approach to the law, determining that "over 190 certifying agencies [for U visas] refuse to certify based on standards that seem to go beyond the scope of what was intended by Congress.” A lot of prosecutors just don't think undocumented immigrants deserve a chance to stay here, despite Congress's intent in setting up the U visa program, and whether a victim actually does get certification is largely dependent on the political whims of local authorities. Not that our immigration policy is at all tinged with racism, because of course not; it is built on American Exceptionalism.

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The ACLU, perhaps far too optimistically, called on the Obama administration to revise regulations to ensure that victims of violence receive the U visas that they're entitled to, and also says Congress should "change the U-visa law to allow qualifying applicants who are wrongly refused certification" to apply for a U visa directly from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Right, this Congress? Who knows, maybe it could work as long as the revision also bans abortions for undocumented domestic violence victims and keeps them from buying crab legs with food stamps.

[Charlotte Observer via ACLU]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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