Crime victims asked to reapply for special U-Visa after Oakland police wrongly deny

There is a special visa for victims of violent crime who are living in the country without documentation. It’s called a U-Visa  and local police departments play a role in certifying those visas.

Now, the Oakland police department says it made some mistakes in some of those applications last year, the East Bay Times first reported, and they'd like people who were denied U-Visas to reapply.

The program is supposed to provide a form of protection for undocumented immigrants who are victims of violent crimes. It’s fueled by the idea that local police don't want immigrants to be afraid to report crimes because of their immigration status. Last year, Oakland police received 940 applications from people seeking a U-Visa, and 144 of those applications were denied. Earlier this month after the Alameda County Public Defender's Office brought it to their attention, Oakland police realized they denied 25 of those applications by mistake.

How the mistake was made isn't fully known, and Oakland typically is prolific about certifying these visas, second only to Los Angeles, the East Bay Times reported.

According to department figures, Oakland received 940 applications in 2017, certified 796, and rejected 144. The city certified more than 1,000 applications in each of the previous five years. The figures show a spike in rejections: in 2014, only eight of 1,622 applications were rejected, and in 2013, none of the 1,108 applications were rejected, according to the Times.

By comparison, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office averages about 70 requests a year and in 2017 certified 59 and rejected 10, Cmdr. Don Buchanan told the Times. A 2014 report by Reuters ranked cities on the special visa, with Los Angeles issuing 4,585 between 2009 and 2014 and San Jose issuing 1,430 over the same period.

Oliver Cunningham, deputy chief of investigations for OPD, told KTVU on Thursday that programs like this are essential to help local police build trust with members of the public - regardless of their immigration status.

“In some cases there may be a violent crime trend,” Cunnigham said, “and if they're not comfortable reporting” then the community won’t be as safe.

Local police don't have the authority to approve these special U-Visas, only federal authorities with the Department of Homeland security can do that.

And they don't issue very many of them; only 1,700 nationwide in 2015, the last year data was available.

But when people apply for these visas, police do have to certify that the applicant was a victim of a violent crime before forwarding the application to DHS.

If approved by the Department of Homeland Security, the U-Visa will allow someone to stay in the country for up to four years in order to help local authorities investigate and prosecute a crime.