Under Sanctuary Policies, NYC Refuses to Hand Over Gang Member to Immigration Agents

February 22, 2017 Updated: January 2, 2019

NEW YORK—A member of the violent MS-13 gang was arrested in Queens by immigration agents on Feb. 16 after he was released from New York City’s Rikers Island Correctional facility.

Estivan Rafael Marques Velasquez, a Salvadoran national, has a criminal past in the United States, including reckless endangerment in the second degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, and disorderly conduct.

He was ordered removed from the country in November 2015 by an immigration judge.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a detainer to Rikers Island requesting that Marques Velasquez be handed over to them once he had served his time for a criminal conviction of disorderly conduct.

The Department of Corrections did not honor the detainer and, instead, released him.

“We have been clear from the start that we will work with federal immigration authorities to remove individuals who are proven public safety threats in our city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement on Feb. 21.

Under New York City’s 2014 sanctuary policies, ICE agents were ejected from Rikers Island, where they previously held an office. And detainers are only honored if an individual has been convicted of any of 170 crimes listed, the Mayor’s office has said. Belonging to a gang is not on the list.

Reckless endangerment in the second degree is also not on the list, although reckless endangerment in the first degree is. Criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree is not on the list, but criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree is.

“This man is by his own admission a member of a violent street gang and he was released back into the community,” said Thomas R. Decker, field office director for ERO New York, in a statement. “Honoring a detainer request is not about politics, it is about keeping New York citizens safe.”

Under the new priorities for immigration enforcement released by the Department of Homeland Security on Feb. 21, Marques Velasquez is considered a priority for removal.

In fiscal 2016, ICE removed 65,332 illegal aliens from the interior of the United States; about 93 percent of whom were criminals.

However, many more are released back into the United States. In a testimony for a House committee last year, then-ICE Director Sarah Saldaña said 36,007 illegal alien criminals had been released back into communities in fiscal 2013.

“ICE continues to welcome changes to the city’s current policy which is creating a potentially unsafe environment for its residents,” Decker said.


Timeline for Estivan Rafael Marques Velasquez

  • Unknown date: Marques Velasquez illegally entered the United States
  • July 28, 2014: Marques Velasquez is issued a Notice to Appear in immigration court
  • Nov. 2015: Marques Velasquez is ordered removed by an immigration judge
  • May 3, 2016: ICE files a detainer to Rikers Island Correctional facility
  • Feb. 16, 2017: Marques Velasquez is released from custody
  • Feb. 16, 2017: ICE agents arrest Marques Velasquez
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