Key Law Enforcement Resources and Tools for Rapport Building
There are a number of important resources available to law enforcement and prosecutors to assist in addressing the barriers discussed above. These resources are in addition to the invaluable role that partnerships with local victim service organizations through your task force provide.
Law enforcement-based victim advocates. All federal law enforcement agencies, U.S. Attorneys' Offices, and many state and local law enforcement and prosecuting agencies have victim specialists on staff who are available to help in responding to the needs of victims and their families identified through that agency’s investigative activities. Systems-based victim service professionals are a valuable asset within law enforcement agencies. Most commonly, systems-based victim service professionals are responsible for the following:
Smart Tip: Breaking Down the Myth – Immigration Relief in Exchange for Testimony
Some law enforcement and prosecutors are hesitant about sponsoring short-term immigration relief like Continued Presence or providing certification for longer term relief for the T or U visa for victims of trafficking. The concern is that this could be used against the prosecution by the defense as a benefit offered in exchange for someone’s testimony, and thus the victim has incentive to not tell the truth in order to obtain the immigration relief. This has been proven over and over again in human trafficking trials as a fallacy. The simplest counter argument is that the immigration relief allows the individual to remain in the United States legally so that they can participate in the trial.
DOJ’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit has prosecuted many cases, and successfully countered this and many other defense tactics. Visit their Web site to access resources on how to counter this argument in trial, along with many other defense strategies that are common in human trafficking trials.
Immigration relief. Imagine that a victim of human trafficking is been told over and over by their trafficker to be afraid of law enforcement; and all law enforcement will do is arrest and deport them. Instead, a victim comes into contact with law enforcement, an officer takes the time to listen to them, treats them with respect, provides them with referrals to victim service providers, and requests short-term immigration relief like Continued Presence so they can stay in the United States legally. Immigration relief becomes a game changer in building rapport between law enforcement and foreign national human trafficking victims.
Continued Presence is a law enforcement tool that allows a victim who is a potential witness to remain in the United States for the course of the investigation, prosecution, and any civil legal action. Cooperation is not required in order to receive Continued Presence; in fact, Continued Presence can be a valuable tool in building rapport between law enforcement and victims of human trafficking. Victims of human trafficking can only access Continued Presence through a law enforcement agency. The investigator or prosecutor should proactively review options internally and make a determination about what they will request in terms of short-term relief.
Smart Tip: Immigration relief can often be a source of tension between law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim service providers. The bottom line is that immigration relief creates stability for victims—both as survivors and as potential witnesses in a criminal case. Task force members should discuss this issue generally as part of developing task force protocols. See Section 3.1 on task force operational protocol.
It is important when exploring immigration relief options that law enforcement never promise specific immigration relief. Keep in mind that all immigration relief is granted by another agency, which could deny the request. Any questions from a victim about their immigration status should be directed to their immigration attorney. Immigration attorneys will be able to assess the victim’s best options for short-term and long-term immigration relief or safe repatriation if the victim prefers to return to their home country. This also further insulates law enforcement from a defense attorney’s claim that the victim was promised immigration benefits in exchange for testimony. If an immigration attorney is not available, direct the victim to the agency’s victim assistance specialist or a victim service provider to strategize on how to connect with an immigration attorney.
The timing of longer term immigration relief is something that task forces may also want to explore. As part of a T or U visa application, a victim is required to provide a personal statement about what happened to them. This application—once it is submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—may be discoverable. Law enforcement officials, and prosecutors in particular, should be aware that certifying an application for a T visa could be construed by the defense on the trafficking case as conveying a benefit upon the victim “in exchange for” their cooperation and testimony. This should not stop them from doing the right thing and taking an important step to stabilize a victim and critical witness. In practice, there are several ways to minimize concerns.
First, you (or your office) do not have the authority to grant/approve a visa. Your role as law enforcement is merely to certify that the applicant is a victim of trafficking (assuming your investigation shows that) and explain how the victim cooperated or was helpful. USCIS reviews the application, conducts a series of security and background checks, makes the decision, and ultimately grants or denies the application based on many factors and other evidence (of which your certification is only one). In this way, you are essentially a fact-checker for the USCIS because you know the facts of your case.
Secondly, law enforcement does not prepare the application for the victim, because they are not an advocate within the T visa process. Instead, one of the task force partners prepares the application or makes a referral to an attorney who offers such services. Law enforcement does review the statement of facts (for accuracy) before the attorney/advocate has the victim swear to it, in order to avoid mistakes and unnecessary impeachment at trial. When the time comes for your agency to review and certify the application, the trial prosecutor does not make the decision or sign the certification itself. If the defense makes an issue of the certification, someone can testify and explain that all she/he did was review the case and certify the fact that based on the evidence, they believe the victim to be a true victim of human trafficking. This centralized review process promotes consistency, undermines false claims of unwritten promises to the victims, and helps law enforcement agencies ensure a particular designee who certifies all T or U visa applications.
This does not have to become an issue during trial, but the most important strategy is to recognize this potential and coordinate through the task force to make sure everyone understands the issues and the responsibilities of each agency. See Section 4.4 for more information on Continued Presence and other forms of long-term immigration relief, such as the T or U visas available to human trafficking victims.
For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for 5.3 Victim Interview & Preparation.