WACO, Texas (AP) — A state district judge in Central Texas has helped a 13-year-old sexual abuse victim get an immigrant visa after the local district attorney refused, according to a newspaper report published Friday.
The Waco girl was abused by her mother's boyfriend, who pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Both the girl and her mother are illegal immigrants. The girl was brought to the United States from Mexico as a toddler, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/SWjUbq ).
Victims' advocates referred the girl and her mother to Waco attorney Susan Nelson, who pushed for both to be given U-Visas that can be granted to immigrants who are victims of crimes. But McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna refused the request, saying he didn't want the visas given as "rewards."
Nelson went to Judge Ralph Strother as a last resort. Strother agreed to help.
"She didn't ask to be here or ask to be a victim," Strother said, according to the newspaper. "It was just the right thing to do."
The girl and her mother have struggled since the boyfriend went to prison because he was the provider for the family. Advocates say a U-Visa could help the mother find better work and the girl receive help from Medicaid, including counseling.
The paper did not name the girl or her mother. The Associated Press typically does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Nelson and the girl's mother said they had not received an answer for months from Reyna until the newspaper published a story about the case. Two days after the story was published, Reyna declined the request.
"U-Visas are not supposed to be a reward for testimony, but rather an insurance policy to make sure that justice is done," Reyna said in a Facebook post about the case.
He suggested Nelson could go to the police or a judge with the visa paperwork. But Waco police do not help with U-Visa applications as a matter of department policy, a spokesman told the newspaper.
Strother said he believes he was the right person to handle the visa request all along. A prosecutor, by supporting a visa for a victim, could risk the appearance that the victim was getting benefits for his or her testimony, Strother said.
He signed the paperwork earlier this week.
"We're definitely overjoyed," Nelson said.
Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, http://www.wacotrib.com