NEW YORK—Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed a bill on Wednesday that would protect thousands of Rikers Island inmates who illegally immigrated to the United States from being deported.
The city’s Department of Correction (DOC) has been routinely and voluntarily cooperating with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deport 3,000 to 4,000 such immigrants on an annual basis, despite a citywide “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on immigration.
“What this [bill] basically says is that we will not allow city resources to be used to deport New York City residents who have never been convicted of a crime,” said Mark-Viverito.
“We will not be complicit in facilitating a broken immigration system,” she added.
Over 50 percent of those deported had no prior criminal record and 20 percent were charged with minor crimes, according to Mark-Viverito. The DOC currently shares lists of illegal immigrants in custody with the ICE. It provides ICE agents with access to these individuals and detains those flagged by the ICE, regardless of whether they have been convicted of a crime. The ICE then picks up these immigrants and starts deportation procedures.
“ICE does not comment on pending or proposed federal, state, or local legislation,” stated an e-mail from the ICE New York Office.
The ICE is mandated by the federal government to deport illegal immigrants. The agency’s funding is strained; thus, it focuses on those immigrants that present the greatest threat to national security and public safety. The ICE’s Criminal Alien Program pursues this goal nationwide by collaborating with federal, state, and local prisons.
The DOC currently provides free office space to the ICE staff at its Rikers Island facilities.
The city has spent over $55 million per year supporting detainees flagged by the ICE for deportation. ICE representatives have made it clear to the city that no funds will be provided to cover these expenses.
The DOC did not return calls by press deadline.
The proposed legislation would limit the cooperation between the DOC and federal agencies. The DOC would be restricted to cooperate only on cases of convicted criminals. Those with no prior criminal record would be protected under the new law. The bill has the support of 35 sponsors.
“Our city has contributed to what Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama agree is a broken immigration system. But today the city has a chance to send our own message to the federal government—that we will not cooperate and we will not allow for our families to be broken,” stated Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of Make the Road New York.
She added that cooperation between police and immigration enforcement is destructive to communities. According to Archila, illegal immigrants are less likely to cooperate with police if they fear deportation.
“Does this make New York safer? No,” said professor Peter L. Markowitz, director of Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law. “When immigrant communities begin to see our criminal justice system as the gateway to deportation, they stop cooperating with local police as witnesses and victims of crimes. When immigrant communities fear our police, we’re all less safe. DOC’s entanglement with ICE is a public threat.”Councilman Daniel Dromm, chairman of the Immigration Committee, told a story about a city resident who was arrested and spent two months on Rikers Island. During that time the immigrant spoke to ICE agents and was detained for deportation. Despite the charges in his case having been dismissed, he was then sent to a detention facility in Texas, where he had no contact with his family or an attorney, for two years.
“This was a young man who was in college. His life was basically ruined for those two years,” Dromm said.