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.