Oakland police have launched an internal investigation to determine whether immigrants who had been victims of a crime were illegally denied visas by the department.
“We have not been fully and squarely within the law,” OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said in a statement this week. “We want our community to know if they are a victim of a crime they can come to us.”
In a notice shared on the OPD website, the department encouraged anyone who’s been rejected for a U-Visa—a form of witness protection afforded to immigrant victims of certain types of crimes who cooperate with police investigations—to resubmit their paperwork. While the federal government has final approval over who is granted a U-Visa, local police departments must green light all applications before Citizenship and Immigration Services makes their ruling. The OPD announcement came shortly after a public defender produced evidence in two cases where applicants were wrongly denied visas.
The U-Visa program, which allows applicants to live and work legally in the U.S. for up to four years, was initially part of the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. In 2016, California passed additional measures which modified who and how those applying for U-Visa would be served. It was those 2016 changes which appear to be at the root of the OPD’s current investigation.
Data provided by the department shows a dramatic increase in rejected applications starting in 2016.
“As many as 25 of the 144 rejected certifications in 2017 may have been improperly rejected based on a misapplication of the legal standards governing U-Visa certifications,” the department said.
Oakland’s investigation comes as the city braces for a wave of immigration raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Earlier this month, Mayor Libby Schaaf stated unequivocally that she would be willing to face jail time to defend her city’s protections for undocumented immigrants. The Oakland City Council also recently voted to bar local police from assisting in any upcoming ICE raids.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office commended the police department for being “quick to recognize the error and quick to fix it.”
In their notice calling for application resubmissions, the Oakland Police Department made note to apologize for “any inconvenience to our community members who have been affected.”