OPD admits 25 U-Visa certifications mistakenly rejected in 2017

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The Oakland Police Department says an internal audit found the department mistakenly rejected as many as 25 U-Visa certifications last year.

"We acknowledge that there was a mistake, we're apologetic for that," said Deputy Chief Oliver Cunningham.

The police department supplies certifications for U-Visas if an applicant has helped the department in a criminal investigation. A U-Visa allows someone to remain in the United States for up to four years.

"The whole intent of the law is to get our victims to report the crimes and not be fearful of contacting the police to let us know what's going on in our community," said Cunningham.

"It's very easy to exploit and abuse and victimize people who have no status in the United States because they're afraid to call the police," said Susan Bowyer with the Immigration Center for Women and Children.

The Alameda County Public Defender's Office Immigration Unit first caught the mistake and alerted OPD.

"What they were doing is they were denying based on some sort of criminality, whether they were arrested for a crime or possibly a defendant in a crime or convicted of a crime and that's not their job. Their job is only to certify whether someone has been helpful towards prosecuting a crime," said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods.

Woods says the Alameda County Public Defender's Office was the first in California to have an immigration unit to represent clients in immigration court. He says otherwise the mistake may not have been caught.

Ulises Perez Diaz, who was not a client of the Alameda County Public Defender's Office, was initially rejected after he helped police as the victim of an attempted carjacking.

"He felt badly because an opportunity was denied in this country that is his home," explained an interpreter, who was translating Perez Diaz's interview for ABC7 News.

"Worst case scenario is that someone has been deported and they should not have been," said Woods.

The Oakland Police Department says it is reaching out to applicants who were rejected in 2017. OPD says it will also re-visit 2016's applications, which is when the spike in rejections first began.

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