Travis County Sheriff educates immigrant community on U Visa program

The new ban on sanctuary cities goes into effect on September first. The Travis County Sheriff is doing her best to calm fears in the immigrant community as that date approaches.

There is a federal program that protects victims from deportation.

"There is a lot of uncertainty and fear in our community,” said Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez.

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez also has a fear; that with the impending date of the new SB 4 law taking effect less victims are coming forward to report crime.

“It's hard to know how much of an impact it has because if people avoid coming to us."

SB 4 bans sanctuary cities and threatens to punish law enforcement officials who do not fully cooperate with immigration law.

Hernandez herself has come under fire for her policies.

To comfort those whose immigration status may hold them back from picking up the phone-- Hernandez decided to do her best to spread the word about protections the government offers for victims of crime.

She printed pamphlets on what's called the U Visa program. It is a federal program that offers a temporary four year visa for undocumented immigrant victims of crime. It also allows state and federal benefits and work authorization.

"This is a help us put bad people in jail pamphlet and that's what our message is. We want people who are in our immigrant community to come to us, not away from us. We're working really hard at trying to keep that cooperation and maintain a good working relationship with out immigrant community,” said Hernandez.

In the past five years, the sheriff's office has requested U Visas 162 times:

U Visa Applications

2017:   36
2016 :  41
2015:   39
2014 :  25
2013 :  21

Dozens of crimes qualify a person including domestic violence, sex crimes, trafficking, kidnapping and assault.

"When I was a chief deputy at the DA's office, I worked a capital murder case. A man was a witness in that case. His friend was robbed and murdered. He was robbed and injured and put in the hospital. After he got out of the hospital he was deported. We had to bring him back from Mexico to cooperate in that case and if we wouldn't have brought him back we wouldn't have had a case. We would've had a murderer on the street,” said Hernandez.

Successful prosecution of criminals is Hernandez’s goal.

"If a victim or witness doesn't come forth, that means a suspect or a defendant runs free and so that has an impact on all of us because if they've harmed one person, and they're not held accountable then all of, me, everyone could be the next victim,” said Hernandez.

The pamphlets are both in English and Vietnamese. Local law enforcement agencies serve as applicants. It is the government that must approve and issue a U Visa. There is also a T Visa for trafficking victims.

To learn more about the program, click here.