Another mass shooting in the United States means another instance in which migrants might have been victimized or witness to a crime. Details are quickly developing about what happened in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, but there is no reason to doubt that migrants weren’t present in some form either as students, employees, or nearby community members. After several mass shootings in recent years, migrants have come forward to assist police investigations. The treatment at the hands of federal immigration agents has been checkered, with at least one survivor being deported. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Uvalde is a heavily Latino community, but its migrant population is small. Most residents of the 15,000-resident town were born in the United States, making them U.S. citizens. Still, 11 percent report having been born abroad. Some number of those are surely not U.S. citizens. I have no specific knowledge about the number of people in Uvalde who are unauthorized migrants, but rare is the community in the United States in which there aren’t some people whose immigration status isn’t shaky at best. More information is certain to come about the children and teachers killed this week, but it’s likely that other people were present at the school or in town who have some information that may be helpful to understanding what unfolded. There’s no reason to imagine that only U.S. citizens were impacted.
Besides residents, Uvalde is a transit point for migrants making their way to San Antonio and, from there, other parts of the United States. There is a Border Patrol station in town that regularly releases migrants at the town’s bus station located nearby at a Stripes convenience store. In late March, the city’s mayor announced that the Border Patrol would begin leaving between 120 and 150 migrants outside the store every day.
Two days after the shooting, Robb Elementary remains a crime scene. Officers from numerous local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies are investigated the scene as well as looking into the shooter’s background. According to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the state police force, the Texas Rangers, are leading the investigation, but they are being assisted by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the local police department, and others. In addition, Border Patrol agents were on the scene on Tuesday. Reportedly, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed the perpetrator of this latest school shooting in the United States.
Both the identity of the potential witnesses and victims to Tuesday’s massacre as well as the law enforcement entities working to learn more about what happened are important to understand what government officials can do to encourage migrants to share any relevant information. The most obvious possibility is the U visa, a special visa created by Congress in 2000 specifically for victims of certain crimes. Among the list of crimes that Congress specified are murder and felonious assault, both of which strike me as obvious choices to describe what happened at the elementary school.
Since the shooter was killed, there won’t be any prosecution or conviction of him, but neither a trial nor a conviction is necessary for U visa eligibility. Congress was quite clear that anyone who “has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful” to any federal, state, or local law enforcement agency that is “investigating or prosecuting criminal activity” is eligible. Without doubt, what is happening throughout the small town is an investigation of criminal activity. A law enforcement agency is required to certify that the applicant meets this helpfulness criterion.
In addition, Congress wasn’t interested only in helping people who were hit by a bullet or who suffered some form of physical injury. Instead, the Immigration and Nationality Act makes a U visa available to anyone who “has suffered substantial physical or mental abuse” because of the criminal activity. We can expect just about everyone who was in or near the school on Tuesday to suffer immense trauma.
Several of the state’s most prominent elected officials, including Governor Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, have railed against migrants in recent years. I would like to think that they would direct state agencies to help any affected migrants with navigating the immigration law process that Congress created more than two decades ago precisely to encourage investigation and prosecution of criminal activity. But I doubt it. Their like-minded counterpart in Congress, Paul Gosar from Arizona, quickly blamed the shooting on a “transexual leftist illegal alien.” So far there is no credible information suggesting that the shooter was not born in the United States.
Though I don’t expect much from Texas Republicans, all hope isn’t lost. Federal agencies can step in. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas already issued a statement describing Border Patrol involvement in the shooting. Governor Abbot mentioned that the FBI and ICE are both involved in the ongoing investigation. All three of these federal law enforcement agencies can take the lead in helping. They don’t even have to wait to see what, if anything, Texas officials do.
Migrants have proven willing to assist law enforcement agencies after multiple mass shootings in recent years. After a man shot up a New York City subway in April, a longtime resident of the city who isn’t authorized to live in the United States shared videos she took from inside the subway car. A day later, the shooter walked by a three-person work crew installing surveillance cameras at a Manhattan hardware store. The three men recognized the shooter and informed police who then arrested the suspect. One of those men is an unauthorized migrant, another is here on a student visa, and the last is a U.S. citizen whose parents are stuck in Syria. All four New Yorkers have proven themselves willing to help and all could benefit from immigration law assistance. Pressuring is mounting on city officials to do just that.
The El Paso shooting in 2019 provides a contrasting example. There, a woman who was born in México but raised in El Paso survived the shooting. Afterward, she shared information with prosecutors building their case against the shooter. Two years later, in January 2021, ICE deported her after local police stopped her for having a broken taillight.
If government officials want to encourage migrants to work with police, they need to be proactive about assisting migrants when existing immigration law provides a clear option forward. Sadly, Uvalde won’t be the last community to deal with a mass shooting and Robb Elementary is unlikely to be the last school to become the site of a massacre. Reaching out proactively to the people affected by Tuesday’s killing spree isn’t important only to this small, rural town in Texas. It’s important to everyone impacted by future brutal attacks and by all the law enforcement agencies and elected officials who proclaim interest in finding out what happened and why in this incident like they will in the future.