Oakland police may have violated law regarding immigrant visa applications
It turns out that for the past two years, Oakland police refused to certify the applications of almost 300 immigrants who needed the department to confirm they were crime victims so that they could qualify for special visas to remain in the United States. Late last month, officials said they realized that some of those denials may have violated a state law that requires local police departments to certify the visa applications of victims who cooperate during investigations or criminal prosecutions. Because of this, they began an internal audit to see which cases may have been rejected in error and are asking immigrants who were rejected to re-apply for the U visa. Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick stated,
We had not been fully and squarely within the law. We want our community to know that they can come back to us.
This issue was revealed last month when attorneys in the Alameda County public defender’s office told the police department it wasn’t complying with the state’s Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act in two cases involving its clients. The law went into effect in January 2016 and it lowered the threshold for who’s considered a “helpful” victim, sped up the deadline for police certification, and took away some previous discretion law enforcement agencies had in approving applications. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services gives the visas to 10,000 immigrants each year who were physically or mentally abused and helpful to law enforcement during an investigation or prosecution. After the law took effect, applications were more carefully reviewed and were checked to see whether the subjects were themselves suspects in other crimes, which resulted in the average rejection rate of applications going from less than 2 percent to 15 percent in 2016 and 2017. We will have to wait and see if the department does change its process.