FREEHOLD – The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office held public events outlining the application process for immigrant visas in three local municipalities this past weekend, part of a broader campaign to connect with marginalized populations countywide and assure them that they will not be targeted punitively by law enforcement.
The events took place Sunday afternoon in Freehold Borough, Keyport, and Red Bank, with a host of partner organizations lending support.
“I have seen too many instances where people were victims of crime because of their immigration status, or the perception of that status. Criminals expect that immigrants without lawful status will be too afraid to report their crimes, and they target such people in hopes that there will be large amounts of cash available,” Prosecutor Santiago said. “We are here to tell all people – do not be afraid of cooperating with your police departments. We are here to help.”
Specifically, the meetings outlined the application process for what are known as “T-Visas” and “U-Visas” – documents made available to eligible immigrants who are victims of certain crimes or have knowledge of certain crimes and are seeking to obtain legal residency status in the U.S. by application to federal authorities.
The events were presented in cooperation with the Freehold Borough, Keyport, and Red Bank Police Departments, the American Friends Service Committee, Community Affairs and Resource Center, Latino Coalition of New Jersey, and the New Jersey State Bar Association. In addition to immigrant visas, discussion centered on New Jersey Office of the Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2018-6, better known as the “Immigrant Trust Directive” – a landmark statewide policy established in 2018 to strengthen trust between New Jersey’s law enforcement officers and the state’s diverse immigrant communities, designed to ensure that victims and witnesses feel safe reporting crimes to local police without fear of deportation.
“This Directive tells the police to not assist with the enforcement of civil immigration actions, and please know – we do not,” Prosecutor Santiago told audiences Sunday. “We do not concern ourselves with such matters. We want you and your family to be safe, and we want you to trust that the police are concerned with your safety and protection.”
For these and similar outreach efforts, Prosecutor Santiago was named the recipient of a Latino Coalition of New Jersey (LCNJ) Civil Rights Champion Award, presented at the 18th annual Latino Festival of Monmouth County in downtown Freehold Borough last month.
This past weekend’s events also featured support from one of the highest-ranking law enforcement officials in the state, as Prosecutor Santiago thanked New Jersey Office of the Attorney General Division of Criminal Justice Director J. Stephen Ferketic and members of his staff for personally attending the presentation in Freehold Borough.
Information about similar upcoming outreach events will be shared publicly as it becomes available.
An August 2020 fact sheet published by the American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group established in 1987 as the American Immigration Law Foundation, noted that nearly 2 million immigrants comprise nearly a quarter of New Jersey’s population, with slightly more than half being naturalized U.S. citizens. Many are also owners of small businesses that generate an estimated revenue of $3.3 billion annually.
“This is a nation built in huge part by immigrants who responded to the call immortalized by the poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, asking foreign lands for ‘your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,’” Santiago said. “That promise of a better life is as alive today as when those words were written 140 years ago, and we at the Prosecutor’s Office are committed to ensuring we continue to safeguard it to the very best of our abilities, all in the overarching spirit of recognizing that in robust diversity lies tremendous strength.”
To learn more about the application process for T-Visas and U-Visas, go online to http://mcponj.org/t-and-u-visa-nonimmigrant-application-information/.
To learn more about Office of the Attorney General’s Immigrant Trust Directive, or to read the Directive in its entirety, go to https://www.njoag.gov/trust/.