An Eden Prairie woman has been sentenced to three years of probation and faces a federal indictment for faking armed robberies in order to obtain U visas for illegal immigrants.
U non-immigrant status, or U visas, are set aside “for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Congress created U visas in 2000 with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act. U visas provide victims of crimes with temporary protection from deportation.
Yuridia Hernandez Linares, 36, pleaded guilty earlier this month to one count of theft-by-swindle for her “connection to multiple falsified armed robbery incidents,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
According to a criminal complaint, Hernandez Linares would charge illegal immigrants $2,000 a piece in exchange for helping them obtain U visas. She would “cut those individuals with a box cutter to make it appear there was an armed robbery, and then they would report the incident to police,” states the complaint.
In an October press release, the Eden Prairie Police Department said it had “discovered a number of similarities” and “several inconsistencies in the victim statements” from three armed robberies.
“Detectives also noted in each case, the victims reported their Mexican or Ecuadorian passports, or consular identification cards stolen,” said the department.
A month later, Police Chief Greg Weber revealed that the robberies did not occur and turned the investigation over to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, which filed criminal charges November 15.
Freeman announced last week that Hernandez Linares has been sentenced to three years of probation for her crimes. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Monday that she now has been federally indicted for conspiracy to commit visa fraud.
“According to the allegations in the indictment, Linares devised and participated in a detailed scheme, whereby the four individuals each falsely reported to the Eden Prairie Police Department that they were victims of robberies committed in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Linares directed the individuals to file a police report stating that they were a victim of a fabricated assault, and to corroborate each other’s account of the assault,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
President Donald Trump’s administration faced backlash in August when it announced changes to the U visa program. Under the change, illegal immigrants are still allowed to stay in the country while they wait for their U visas, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is allowed to deport pending U visa applicants.
According to The Hill, applications for U visas can take up to four years to process and roughly 10,000 are issued each year. There is no limit, however, to the number of U visas that can be issued to the spouses and children of applicants under the age of 21.
“As the number of U visa petitions submitted increased, this process became burdensome on both agencies and such determinations didn’t reflect a qualitative assessment of any assistance provided to law enforcement,” an ICE spokesperson said at the time.
The San Diego Union Tribune reports that U visa applications increased by 137 percent between fiscal year 2009 and 2017. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 58,991 applications in fiscal year 2018 and was on track to receive 49,508 applications last year.
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