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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Times Opinionator
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

A Smart Immigration Move at Rikers

Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks often about the need for smart and humane immigration reform. He has now rightly thrown his support behind a City Council bill [sponsored by Make the Road NY] that would place sensible limits on how far New York City goes to help the federal government detain and deport illegal immigrants who pose no threat to the community.

The bill, sponsored by Speaker Christine Quinn, involves immigrants jailed at Rikers Island. Officials there, as in most of the country, routinely send lists of foreign-born inmates to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency, known as ICE, checks its databases for immigration violators and sends back requests that certain inmates be held until taken into federal custody. The city usually obliges, though no law or agreement requires it to.

The agency issued so-called detainers on 3,506 Rikers inmates in 2009. But were they all dangerous criminals? The City Council found that while about 22 percent of the detainers were placed on inmates with felony records, more than half involved inmates with no prior convictions.

Under Ms. Quinn’s bill, the city would still allow ICE into its jails and would keep firm hold on criminals who threatened public safety. But it would end the voluntary practice of handing over inmates who clearly do not belong in ICE’s dragnet. That is, those who are about to be released because charges have been dropped, who have no prior convictions or outstanding warrants, who have not been previously ordered deported, and who do not appear on watch lists of gang members and terrorists.

It is a sensible approach, nothing like the thoughtless harshness we see in Alabama and Arizona, where radical laws have enabled indiscriminate roundups, without regard to the devastating harm to families, citizen children or the economy. With deportations at record highs under President Obama — partly because of the outsourcing of immigration enforcement to local police agencies — discretion and compassion are needed more than ever. His administration recently declared that it would focus on deporting dangerous criminals, not harmless workers. With this bill, New York would help make sure those good intentions stick. The Council should swiftly pass this bill.

To read the original article, click here.