UPDATE: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the two bills Friday. The new legislation will take effect in 30 days.
De Blasio spoke of the immigration plight nation-wide: “This is a national issue that, instead of being dealt with openly and respectfully and intelligently, it’s been swept under the rug, stigmatized, run away from, ignored – you can go down the whole list.”
If President Barack Obama doesn’t overhaul the immigration system with executive action, de Blasio said, cities and states would have to do his job for him.
Undocumented immigrants in New York City are now protected from federal detainment orders, which the city will refuse to honor without a federal judge’s warrant, under two new bills passed Wednesday.
And even with a warrant, police will only detain illegal immigrants convicted of violent or serious crimes, such as those on terrorist watch.
Under the new legislation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Riker’s Island, New York’s biggest jail, will also be shutting down.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bills in the Blue Room at City Hall Wednesday.
He said he felt the two bills juggled two concerns–public safety and human rights–and struck the right balance.
“This will obviously allow us to act when there are these serious crimes and serious situations,” said de Blasio, “But in many, many other situations it will prevent undocumented immigrants who pose no harm from further civil immigration penalties.”
One of the key backers of the bill, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito explained in a statement, “By further limiting ICE’s role in the detention and deportation of immigrant New Yorkers, we set the national standard for the treatment of our immigration population.”
Out with the Old
Rhode Island and Pennsylvania courts have already ruled earlier this year that immigration detainment orders were not enough probable cause to hold people in jail.
Their judges reached a conclusion similar to the one reached by city councilmembers—since federal government detainer requests are voluntary, those honoring them might find the blame falling on them for violating the U.S. Constitution.
Still, the new laws might create a loophole for criminals in the justice system, said Dan Cadman, a former ICE employee and a fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., that supports stronger immigration control.
He said of the legislation, “It’s going to result in a significant number of individuals who are known troublemakers or criminals being released back to the streets before ICE can get their hands on them.”
Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Argawal said that the new legislation would actually increase public safety.
She said that many immigrants avoid police officers for fear of deportation, and that with cooperation with ICE off the table, more immigrants would be willing to inform police of criminal sightings.
New York City officials have done much for its immigrants, sending out education and health officials into immigration courts to advise migrant children on opportunities, and issuing municipal IDs.
César Perez, from Make the Road NY, a group for working-class families, stated that the new laws were helpful to him too, as a citizen whose father is undocumented.
“My father is in jail, because he tried to protect himself from getting assaulted. He didn’t know that he had an order of deportation since twenty years ago,” said Perez.
Alissa Wellick from the Immigrant Defense Project said, “We see countless families torn apart. They sit in Riker’s sometimes for years.”
Yet, the legislation which is meant to move along immigration reform obstructed by the Congressional partisan gridlock is not enough, said Mark-Viverito in a statement Wednesday.
“New York City will continue to lead at the municipal level, but urgent federal action is needed,” she said.