After New York’s worst subway attack in decades, a Mexican woman who had been on the ill-fated train gave police her cellphone to retrieve videos of the chaos. She was undocumented.
The next day, the suspect, Frank James, walked by three men upgrading surveillance cameras at a hardware store in the East Village in Manhattan. They flagged down police officers. They were an undocumented Mexican immigrant, a Lebanese student and an American-born Syrian who had fled civil war and left his parents behind.
The authorities have credited all four with helping to capture Mr. James, who is charged with opening fire inside an N train on April 12 in Brooklyn, leaving dozens of people hurt. Now, the helpers are seeking protection from the nation’s immigration system.
“We are proud of what we did,” said Zack Tahhan, 22, the Syrian-American whose ecstatic retelling of the suspect’s capture made him a viral sensation. “But now we are worried about our families.”
The helpers and their lawyers are in the early stages of applying for visas set aside for victims, witnesses and informants who help law enforcement, and determining whether they can access alternatives like humanitarian parole or political asylum.
Their lawyers say aiding their clients would help to rebuild trust among Muslims and immigrants after years of heightened hostility toward them under President Donald J. Trump. More than a third of New York’s 8.8 million inhabitants are immigrants, including 500,000 undocumented people, according to city statistics. More than 760,000 residents are Muslim.
“Any sign of mutual trust between those authorities and communities could certainly go some way,” said Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst at Washington’s nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
Rifat A. Harb, a lawyer, represents Mr. Tahhan in his quest to be reunited with his parents, who are refugees in Turkey. He said the United States should emulate other countries that swiftly welcomed immigrants who performed heroic deeds.
“Something like this needs to get the same appreciation,” he said.
He cited France’s decision to grant citizenship to a Malian who became known as the Spider-Man of Paris in 2018 after he climbed the facade of an apartment building to save a toddler dangling from a fourth-floor balcony. In 2020, Spain granted residency to a Senegalese street vendor who