Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau spoke out Tuesday in support of two proposed New York City Council bills that would shield undocumented immigrants from federal detainment orders, which the city could refuse to honor without a federal judge’s warrant.
Even with a warrant, police will only detain undocumented immigrants convicted of violent or serious crimes, such as those on terrorist watch.
“We would only honor the judicial warrant in extreme cases,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of the key backers of the bills, last Tuesday in the Red Room in City Hall.
The second bill would remove U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices from Riker’s Island, New York’s biggest jail complex.
The legislation was introduced last Tuesday in City Hall and referred to a committee on immigration for further study. Both the mayor and the New York Police Department support the bills.
Morgenthau, 95, has spoken up in the past about the need for U.S. immigration policy reform amidst the partisan gridlock over the issue.
He said in a press release that New York’s potential move to shield undocumented immigrants could lead the country on immigration.
“The City Council should be congratulated on setting a national precedent by tackling this serious issue,” he said. “These bills will safeguard our city and our country.”
Mark-Viverito agreed, replying in a statement, “We hope that this will set a new standard for other cities dealing with immigrants incarcerated for minor offenses.”
According to Mark-Viverito, if the bills are passed, immigrants who entered the country illegally will no longer be separated from their families by ICE detainment orders.
Morgenthau also noted that some of the undocumented immigrants had only committed minor misdemeanors or traffic violations.
He said that under current city law, police already don’t honor ICE detainment orders unless the suspect has criminal charges on his or her record.
“However, a criminal charge is not the same thing as a conviction,” said Morgenthau, drawing the distinction between current law and the proposed bills, “These bills are the necessary and logical next step.”