Federal immigration authorities have issued four immigration subpoenas to New York City in an attempt to force it to hand over data about inmates wanted for deportation.
“This is not a request—it’s a demand,” Henry Lucero, a senior U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official, told The Associated Press. “This is a last resort for us. Dangerous criminals are being released every single day in New York.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on Jan 18 said the city would review the subpoenas.
New York is among about 200 so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions that limit their agencies, including law enforcement officers, from cooperation with ICE.
The development comes days after ICE sent similar subpoenas to the city of Denver, a move that reflected the agency’s mounting pressure on jurisdictions that don’t honor deportation “detainers,” or provide any details about defendants going in and out of local custody.
The subpoenas sent to New York seek information about three inmates—including a man wanted for homicide in El Salvador—who were recently released even as immigration officials requested the city turn them over for deportation.
The fourth subpoena asks for information about a Guyanese man charged this month with sexually assaulting and killing Maria Fuertes, a 92-year-old Queens woman.
The city had arrested the woman’s alleged attacker, Reeaz Khan, 21, in November 2019 on earlier assault charges, but released him instead of turning him over for deportation. Khan was charged with murder on Jan. 10 and remains in custody.
While New York City police say they didn’t receive a detainer request for Khan, ICE insists it was sent. Regardless, the city would not have turned him over under the terms of New York’s local ordinance governing how police work with federal immigration officials.
The city’s detainer law says that officials have to turn over violators to ICE only after they are convicted and only for violent and serious offenses.
Hours before the subpoenas were issued on Jan. 17, acting ICE Director Matthew Albence told a news conference in New York City that city leaders had blood on their hands in Fuertes’s death.
“It is this city’s sanctuary policies that are the sole reason this criminal was allowed to roam the streets freely and end an innocent woman’s life,” Albence said.
In an email on Jan. 18, the city’s spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, accused the Trump administration of trying “to exploit this tragedy.”
De Blasio has accused ICE of employing “scare tactics” and spreading lies. He said on Twitter this week that the city has passed “common-sense laws about immigration enforcement that have driven crime to record lows.”
City officials in Denver said they wouldn’t comply with the requests, saying the subpoenas could be “viewed as an effort to intimidate officers into help enforcing civil immigration law.”
“The documents appear to be a request for information related to alleged violations of civil immigration law,” Chad Sublet, senior counsel to the Department of Safety in Denver, wrote in a letter to ICE officials.
But Lucero, ICE’s acting deputy executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations, said the agency may consult with federal prosecutors to obtain a court order compelling the city’s compliance. “A judge can hold them in contempt,” he told AP.
Meanwhile, ICE is considering expanding its use of immigration subpoenas in other sanctuary jurisdictions.
“Like any law enforcement agency, we are used to modifying our tactics as criminals shift their strategies,” Lucero said in a statement. “But it’s disheartening that we must change our practices and jump through so many hoops with partners who are restricted by sanctuary laws passed by politicians with a dangerous agenda.”
Sanctuary Versus Crime
“New York City will not change the policies that have made us the safest big city in America,” Goldstein said.
Despite increases in recent years of some violent crimes, the city’s crime rates have declined more than five-fold over the past 30 years (pdf, pdf). The city has been a sanctuary jurisdiction to varying degrees since 1989, but it’s not clear how much of the crime drop, if any, can be attributed to the policies.
There seems to be little to no evidence that sanctuary policies decrease crime. A 2016 paper (pdf) indicated that sanctuary cities had, on average, higher violent crime rates than demographically comparable cities. But the rates were higher even before the cities assumed their sanctuary status. The authors concluded that the effect of passing such policies on crime was not statistically significant.
It’s not clear how much a city’s illegal alien population changes in response to passing a sanctuary policy. Since illegal aliens are usually a small portion of a city’s populace, even a significant change in their criminality should only have a small effect on the city’s overall crime rates.
Proponents argue that sanctuary policies encourage illegal aliens to help police solve crimes. It’s not clear to what degree illegal aliens have been helpful to law enforcement, regardless of sanctuary policies. Several studies have shown that increased cooperation with immigration authorities could fray police-community relations at least temporarily (pdf), but don’t necessarily affect levels of crime reporting to police.
Opponents of the policies usually point to individual crime prevention. A 2014 ICE paper (pdf) said that nearly 9,000 ICE detainers issued in the first eight months of that year were declined by local jurisdictions. Of the illegal aliens targeted, almost 1,900 were subsequently arrested for a crime within less than 10 months. All the crimes they committed could have been prevented if they were handed over to ICE as requested, the opponents argue.
Former Immigration Judge Andrew Arthur opined in a 2017 article that sanctuary policies encourage more people to enter the country illegally and thus fuel human smuggling by criminal organizations, such as gangs and drug cartels.
“Anything that promotes recourse to smugglers is a bad thing, because smugglers are, simply put, bad people. They are really just in it for the money, and have very little concern for the lives, safety, or well-being of their ‘customers,’” he said.
“As importantly, however, money paid to smugglers often makes its way to the very groups whose violent activities abroad have spurred the exodus of those aliens. That money also helps finance those groups in spreading misery and death in the United States.”
Arthur is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates for lower immigration and opposes sanctuary policies.
Jack Phillips and The Associated Press contributed to this report.