City Ombudsman Hammers Portland Police Refusal to Certify Visa Applications for Crime Victims

The rate of approval dropped sharply in 2021. An investigation concluded why.

The Portland Police Bureau refused to certify paperwork for three dozen immigrants who were eligible for special temporary visas given to crime victims, the city ombudsman says in a report released today.

Federal guidelines say local agencies are not responsible for determining eligibility for an immigration status, but Oregon law requires them to certify applications. It’s generally a rubber stamp. The Portland Police Bureau, like many other agencies, had approved 90% of the applications in recent years.

But that rate dropped to under 50% in 2021. An investigation by the city ombudsman concluded why: high turnover among cops reviewing the applications, and a lack of training.

The ombudsman began investigating the bureau’s certification process after receiving a complaint from a woman who applied for the visa, but was rejected because police said they were unable to find “probable cause” of a crime. When she was 17, she told police she had been physically abused by her older domestic partner. The ombudsman reviewed the police reports, which included documented injuries and the name of a witness, and concluded the rejection “appeared to be an oversight, or poor police work.”

In a response to the report, Police Chief Chuck Lovell said the bureau had reached out to victims in cases flagged by the ombudsman and was “happy” to reconsider its determinations. Lowell also noted the bureau was conducting a “regional training opportunity” this year on the visa process.

Correction: An earlier version of this article asserted incorrectly that the bureau’s declining certification rate was due to the assignment of a new reviewer, Lt. David Jackson. In fact, Lt. Jackson made corrections to the bureau’s prior process and reviewed the cases after they were flagged by the ombudsman. The report does not name the reviewers, instead citing “high turnover” as one of the causes for the declining certification rate. WW regrets the error.

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