On Friday, New York City’s (NYC) Mayor Bill de Blasio signed local legislation, Introductions 486-A and 487-A, which will significantly restrict the city’s cooperation with inappropriately broad federal immigration enforcement practices, except in instances where there are public safety concerns, i.e., criminal activity. Another effect of these bills is to end Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) presence at Rikers Island prison and all City facilities. A few of us attended the press conference, where the Mayor actually signed the legislation which will go into effect in 30 days.
In essence, the bill drastically limits ICE’s use of the New York City Criminal Justice System as an arena in which it can enforce its removal and detention operations. The new laws will lead to the release of many non-citizens who since the inception and implementation of the Secure Communities and Criminal Alien Programs have actually chosen to remain in criminal custody by not posting bail and refusing to resolve even the most minor of criminal cases in an effort to avoid their inevitable transfer into ICE detention.
Prior to this signing, New York Chapter members Cory Foreman and Hedwin Salmen-Navarro, testified in front of New York City Council, representing AILA’s position that the then current practice of detaining non-criminals was inhumane, cruel and financially crippling to an already vulnerable community. As part of their testimony, they said:
“In light of a number of recent court decisions holding that federal law does not require local law enforcement to honor detainers, a growing number of cities and municipalities across the country are refusing to cooperate with Immigration & Customs Enforcement following a foreign national’s release from police or Department of Corrections custody. There are a number of legal, policy and humanitarian reasons why it is critical for New York City to stop honoring immigration detainers except in the most extreme cases.”
ICE issues detainers to local law enforcement agencies, such as the NYPD or Department of Corrections, asking them to hold an individual even after his or her cases have been resolved, often without a warrant. The detainers allow the person to be picked up by federal immigration authorities, who often hold the person for months before initiating deportation proceedings.
486-A and 487-A will limit the NYPD or Corrections to only honoring a detainer if it comes with a federal warrant, and even then, only if the individual in question has been convicted of a violent or serious felony in the last five years, or is a possible match on the terrorist watch list.
Mayor de Blasio has been a keen supporter and advocate for immigrant rights, and sympathizes greatly with the plight of undocumented workers. I recall seeing him speak at the immigration rally October 2013, where he spoke in support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. As he signed these bills he said, “What these bills do is they protect the rights of undocumented immigrants, of visa holders, and legal permanent residents alike, all of whom have suffered under the previous approach, and ultimately prevent families from being torn apart.”
This is not the only immigration stance he has taken. The Mayor has also introduced the idea of municipal identification for undocumented individuals, and has always been a vocal advocate of the Dream Act.
The usual opponents and naysayers claim that these new laws restricting ICE’s scope of authority will compromise safety, however as we know, and as the Mayor conveyed at the press conference, undocumented immigrants will be more likely to approach police for help or with tips if they do not fear deportation. He said: “When people understand in all cases police are here to protect, and will not be part of deporting, it will encourage people to come forward.”
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also spoke at length about federal inaction causing harm by separating families and the pain for undocumented individuals, as they are unable to apply for any relief, nor leave due to the fear of not being able to return.
As we all anticipate some form of executive action, or see if this game of chicken or immigration stalemate will come to an end and we hope to see some significant, meaningful reform, local governments recognize the need for action. I hope that local legislators continue their important efforts, but I think we all hope that the federal government starts acting soon, because immigration is a federal concern, not just a local one.
Written by Neena Dutta, AILA NYC Chapter Chair