The New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”) issued a Report today detailing its analysis of the Police Department’s (“NYPD”) U visa certification program. The U visa, also known as U nonimmigrant status, is a special visa granted to undocumented immigrants who are victims of crimes and who help law enforcement investigate and prosecute those crimes. A U visa provides undocumented crime victims with a pathway to legal permanent resident status, employment authorization, and other benefits. Although the U visa is provided by the federal government, a law enforcement agency like NYPD must first certify that the applicant was helpful in the investigation of a qualifying crime. Law enforcement agencies, like DOI, regularly rely on victim cooperation to identify suspects, investigate illegal activity, and prosecute criminals. The U visa program encourages members of this vulnerable community to bring perpetrators to justice, while helping to build community trust with the police. In light of recent federal policy shifts in immigration enforcement that have amplified fear in this community, the public safety value of the U visa program has taken added importance. In the past several years, NYPD has taken steps to improve its handling of the U visa process, as well as other actions to protect this community. The Report found NYPD has made positive chan ges to the administrative management of the U visa program, but needs to strengthen certain aspects of the certification process. A copy of the Report with recommendations is attached to this release and can be found at the following link: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/doi/newsroom/public-reports.page
DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters said, “Victim cooperation is critical to all law enforcement work. In the current environment, where the immigrant community has been the target of fear mongering and attacks, all of us in local law enforcement have been working to ensure that immigrants – documented or undocumented – are protected and feel safe stepping forward to report crimes. Strengthening NYPD’s U visa program helps New York City achieve that goal.”
DOI’s Inspector General for the NYPD Philip K. Eure said, “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. 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. By making the NYPD’s U visa program more consistent and transparent, the Department can help protect immigrant communities and make the City safer.”
The number of certification requests made to NYPD has increased more than seven -fold in the last six years – from 87 in 2011 to 713 in 2016 – and NYPD receives the highest number of requests of any certifying City agency. DOI reviewed a random sample of more than 80% of applications denied by NYPD in 2015. DOI determined NYPD has taken numerous steps to improve its U visa policies and protect the immigrant community. In 2016, for instance, NYPD made adjustments to its administrative processing of U visa certification requests, including fixed timeframes for handling requests and new protocols governing appeals. However, DOI also found that several issues require additional attention.
The report makes 10 recommendations in the areas of discretionary standards for certification, transparency, public information, and training. Recommendations include:
NYPD should develop concrete, written standards on how to conduct an assessment of an applicant’s criminal background and on the types of criteria that warrant denial of the certification request.
NYPD can do more to assess applicants who have a reasonable basis for not cooperating with an investigation. Specifically, NYPD should take affirmative steps to contact both the NYPD personnel who investigated the underlying incident and the party requesting the certification, and such steps should be documented.
NYPD should create and publish its complete standards for certification eligibility.
NYPD should develop written materials regarding the U visa program for dissemination at precincts and other locations where victims may encounter police.
NYPD should develop informational training on U visas for specialized NYPD units that frequently encounter immigrant communities.
The New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) is one of the oldest law-enforcement agencies in the country and is New York City’s corruption watchdog. DOI investigations may involve any agency, officer, elected official, or employee of the City, as well as those who do business with or receive benefits from the City. DOI’s strategy attacks corruption comprehensively, through systemic investigations that lead to high-impact arrests, preventive internal controls, and operational reforms that improve the way the City runs. Bribery and Corruption are a Trap. Don’t Get Caught Up. Report It at 212-3-NYC-DOI. Learn more at www.nyc.gov/doi.
DOI’s Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD (OIG-NYPD) is an oversight office charged with investigating, reviewing, studying, auditing, and making recommendations relating to the operations, policies, programs, and practices of the New York City Police Department (NYPD). The goals of OIG-NYPD are to enhance the effectiveness of the police department, increase public safety, protect civil liberties and civil rights, and increase the public's confidence in the police force, thus building stronger police-community relations. OIG-NYPD is part of the New York City Department of Investigation and is independent of the NYPD. Inspector General Eure reports to DOI Commissioner Peters.