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Human Trafficking Attorneys Say Smuggled Immigrants Might Not Face Deportation

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Thirteen of the nearly forty immigrants found in a sweltering semi trailer on Sunday are still in the hospital. Fourteen are in custody, considered witnesses in the human smuggling case against the driver. Legal experts say the immigrants who survived incident could possibly avoid deportation.  




Stacie Jonas is managing attorney for the Human Trafficking Team at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. She says Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has a policy stating they generally should not initiate removal proceedings against immigrants who’ve witnessed a crime.


“And the purpose of that obviously is to ensure that individuals who may be afraid to participate in law enforcement prosecutions or simply need the opportunity to remain here to do so have that option,” Jonas says.


Jonas says the immigrants in this case may know of other crimes that took place while they were being smuggled. But, being smuggled into the U.S. by itself doesn’t usually make an individual eligible for immigration protection.


“If in the course of your smuggling, you become the victim of another serious crime, including false imprisonment, unlawful criminal restraint, or abduction, just examples, you may be eligible for an immigration protection known commonly as a U-Visa,” Jonas says.


According to Jonas, individuals are only eligible for the U-Visa if they cooperate with law enforcement investigations.

Louisa Jonas is an independent public radio producer, environmental writer, and radio production teacher based in Baltimore. She is thrilled to have been a PRX STEM Story Project recipient for which she produced a piece about periodical cicadas. Her work includes documentaries about spawning horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds aired on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Louisa previously worked as the podcast producer at WYPR 88.1FM in Baltimore. There she created and produced two documentary podcast series: Natural Maryland and Ascending: Baltimore School for the Arts. The Nature Conservancy selected her documentaries for their podcast Nature Stories. She has also produced for the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations Podcast. Louisa is editor of the book Backyard Carolina: Two Decades of Public Radio Commentary. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her training also includes journalism fellowships from the Science Literacy Project and the Knight Digital Media Center, both in Berkeley, CA. Most recently she received a journalism fellowship through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she traveled to Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska to study climate change. In addition to her work as an independent producer, she teaches radio production classes at Howard Community College to a great group of budding journalists. She has worked as an environmental educator and canoe instructor but has yet to convince a great blue heron to squawk for her microphone…she remains undeterred.