MANHATTAN — Since President Donald Trump’s election, cities across the United States have seen a sharp decline in undocumented immigrants reporting crimes against them, from domestic abuse to sexual assault.
This disturbing trend has been one of the main public-safety arguments behind “sanctuary” jurisdictions like New York City, which — at least, in theory — help these victims cooperate with the police without fear of deportation.
On Friday, however, New York City’s Department of Investigation found in a report that police here have impeded these goals with unnecessary roadblocks to a program meant to achieve this goal.
On the whole, the NYPD’s “U visa” program – which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for a visa reserved for crime victims who help U.S. law enforcement – has made strides over the past six years, with certified requests rising nearly tenfold from 87 in 2011 to 713 last year.
While applauding these strides, the NYPD’s inspector general Philip Eure found that the department has not done nearly enough to publicize the program, make it more transparent, and justify rejected applications.
“For undocumented people who are victims of crimes, fear of deportation often stands in the way of cooperation with law enforcement – a fact their abusers readily exploit,” Eure said in a statement. “This report demonstrates that NYPD’s U visa program has taken steps to improve and needs to go further, specifically strengthening its internal standards when reviewing these certifications.”
In 2015, the NYPD certified 74 percent of U visa applications, a rate that rose to 82 percent last year.
Still, the inspector general found that the department’s excuses for denying applications could be murky. Police typically send applicants a form letter and check a box, without providing a written explanation for the refusal.
For more than half of the rejected applications, the NYPD turns back immigrants who do not cite a “qualifying crime.”
An applicant’s criminal history disqualified visa seekers under this program in 16 percent of rejected applications, even when that person is not suspected of a serious or violent crime.
“Without further clarification, these standards evade definition, potentially resulting in NYPD’s use of discretion to deny certifications in a way that is inconsistent and unfair,” the 41-page DOI report states.
In one case, according to the report, the NYPD refused to certify a crime victim because of a summons charging him with being an unlicensed vendor.
Refusing to cooperate with police could be another ground for visa denial, even if a crime victim has good reason not to move forward as a witness.
“To illustrate this point, NYPD denied a certification request of a sexual assault victim who lived in fear of a partner who abused her and used her immigration status against her,” the report states.
“ Although this victim had provided helpful information to the police, NYPD’s investigative file notes that she ultimately did not want to move forward with the prosecution,” it continues. “NYPD denied her certification request on the basis of lack of helpfulness without taking further steps to determine whether her actions constituted a reasonable refusal.”
The inspector general also faulted the NYPD for failing to train officers who work with immigrant communities, or disseminate information on the U visa program to the broader public.
“Providing the public with greater information about the program will benefit both crime victims and NYPD,” the report states. “Such information should be provided in multiple languages.”
In April, the New York Times reported that Los Angeles saw a 10 percent drop in reports of domestic violence and a 25 percent decline in reports of sexual assault from the Latino community.
Houston saw a 40 percent plummet in Latinos reporting rapes, the paper noted.
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