Good afternoon Mr. Chair and members of the committee. My name is Raana Simmons and I am the Director of Policy for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. I am here today representing the Coalition in strong support of HB20-1088 concerning certification of victim helpfulness.
Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to experiencing sexual assault, as they are generally more isolated and may be actively targeted by aggressors who see them as socially and legally vulnerable. Immigrant survivors of sexual assault are frequently unaware of, have incorrect information about, or encounter difficulties when they try to access services that, as a matter of law, are available to help them. HB 20-1088 remedies these systemic barriers to help-seeking and reporting, by creating a clear and consistent statewide protocol so that immigrant victims who qualify for U-visa certification have access to the policy that was designed specifically to offer them help and protection.
In preparation for this committee hearing, I spoke with one of CCASA’s member agencies whose primary function is to assist crime victims who qualify, in accessing the application for the U-visa. The San Luis Valley Immigrant Resource Center is located in Alamosa, CO and serves the entire San Luis Valley and beyond, including recent cases as far North as Colorado Springs and as far West as rural Gunnison. In reviewing HB 20-1088, SLVIRC victim advocates expressed strong support for the bill, specifically their support of the provision that mandates a timeframe in which certification must be signed or declined by law enforcement. These advocates also provided feedback which I believe is captured in the amendments before you, specifically L.002, to include language that mirrors the 2019 US Department of Homeland Security, U-visa Law Enforcement Resource Guide and a provision to clarify that language access barriers cannot be considered as a reason for law enforcement to decline certification. As I learned from our conversation, the San Luis Valley is home to large population of indigenous Guatemalans whose native language is Q’anjob’al, a Mayan language spoken primarily in Guatemala and part of Mexico. In their experience working with this community, eligible crime victims who are indigenous Guatemalans are sometimes mistakenly provided Spanish speaking interpreters to begin the U-visa certification process. As you might imagine, language barriers prevent these victims from understanding the information being provided them and this miscommunication is often mistakenly understood by law enforcement as the victim refusing to cooperate which of course, results in a declined application. SLVIRC victim advocates believe the adoption of HB 20-1088 will remedy this misunderstanding to ensure language barriers no longer prevent crime victims who qualify from accessing the policy that was designed specifically to offer them help and protection.
It is for these reasons CCASA supports HB20-1088 and urges a “yes” vote from the committee. Thank you for your time this afternoon, I am available to answer any questions the committee may have.