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Miramonte victims afraid to come forward due to deportation

February 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Some of the students seen in disturbing pictures taken by a Miramonte Elementary School teacher have yet to be identified. Immigration rights activists said that's because their parents may be here illegally.

Vamos Unidos, an immigrations rights and education center, says those parents can apply for a U-Visa. Illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes are able to be granted temporary status.

"Any parent whose child is suspected of being victimized by these school predators, they should immediately pursue legal assistance to get the protection of a U-Visa," said Juan Jose Guiterrez from Vamos Unidos.

In order to be protected under a U-Visa, the crime must be reported to authorities and the victim must cooperate in the investigation and prosecution. It can take six to 12 months to receive a U-Visa, and about 10,000 are granted a year.

Los Angeles Sherriff Lee Baca drafted a letter to Miramonte parents, saying to come forward and not to worry about their immigration status.

"He is so adamant about this that he has put this in writing," said L.A. County Sherriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. "He is sending a letter out. It will be received by the parents sooner rather than later- 1,300, 1,400 parents at Miramonte Elementary School. He says that in the letter that their immigration status is not important to us."

So far 23 children have been identified in photos depicting lewd acts. Investigators say former third grade teacher Mark Berndt blindfolded students and fed them his semen on spoons and cookies.

Another student alleges that she was fondled by former second grade teacher Martin Bernard Springer, who posted bail on Friday.

"We understand that this is a very challenging time," said Whitmore. "We want them to know that the L.A. County Sherriff's Department has only one thing in mind- to get the facts."

Anyone with information is urged to call the L.A. County Sherriff's Department at 877-710-LASD.