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Know Your Rights
Source: WNYC Public Radio
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Bill Limits Reach of Federal Immigration Authorities in City Jails

A new bill that would limit the cooperation between local jails and federal immigration enforcement was introduced in the City Council on Wednesday.

The bill would prevent immigrants without a criminal record and who are not convicted in their current case from being on immigration detainers.

"What this basically says is that we will not allow city resources to be used to deport New York City residents who have never been convicted of a crime," said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of lead sponsor of the bill, at a press conference on the steps of City Hall. "We will not be complicit in facilitating a broken immigration system."

Information about prisoners at Rikers is often shared with federal immigration authorities under an initiative known as the Criminal Alien Program. Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that are stationed at Rikers can interview foreign-born inmates and decided whether they want to place the inmate on an immigration hold or detainer.

If a detainer is lodged against an inmate, DOC will hold him for an extra 48 hours at Rikers after his case is closed to give ICE an opportunity to assume custody of the individual.

The Criminal Alien Program, ICE argues, allows them to target an illegal alien with a criminal record and prevent them from being released into the general public and potentially committing other crimes.

But immigration advocates and some politicians have argued the city works too closely with ICE and that many individuals with no prior criminal record end up being deported. According to the bill proposal, in the calendar year 2009, DOC identified 12,710 foreign born inmates, and ICE placed detainers on 3,506 of them. More than 50 percent had no prior convictions.

Proponents [including Make the Road New York] of this bill also argue that the city is footing the bill for the federal government by cooperating with ICE.

According to a 2010 study by Justice Strategies, a prisoner advocacy group, “noncitizens with a drug-related top charge and an ICE detainer spend 73 days longer in jail before being discharged than those without an ICE detainer.”

The amount it costs to house a detainee for one day is about $209 per day, according to the mayor’s Office of Operations.

Councilwoman Mark-Viverito, called Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose chief policy adviser and criminal justice coordinator, John Feinblatt, came out in favor of the cooperation with ICE earlier this year, to join her and others in their effort to reshape the program.

“Hopefully he will see what is right,” she said, referring to the mayor.

ICE and the mayor’s office declined to address the bill, citing their policy of not commenting on pending legislation.

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