In step with a recent push in the borough to keep immigrant families intact, the City Council passed two bills last week that would keep undocumented people charged with minor crimes from being directed to federal customs and deported.
The legislation, which passed 40-7, keeps the city Department of Correction from detaining undocumented immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they are youthful offenders, do not have significant criminal records, have been accused of low-level offenses or have been convicted of some types of misdemeanor offenses.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Daniel Coates, a lead organizer for Jackson Heights immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York. “We really see it as a significant step forward.”
The two bills follow up on a previous law passed at the end of 2011 that barred Corrections from detaining immigrants for ICE who come into contact with law enforcement but have no prior criminal record. The bills do not apply to those who have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in the past 10 years, are a potential match for an entry in the terrorist database, have a history of immigration violations, have been charged with a felony not yet prosecuted or have been charged with sex abuse, assault, gun possession, driving while intoxicated or violation of an order of protection.
“It is fair and just for our city to limit its cooperation with ICE officials especially where it concerns immigrant New Yorkers who have been convicted of low-level offenses or who have no past criminal record,” Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said in a statement.
Queens councilmen who voted against the bills are Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
Immigration advocates have lobbied for the city to pass these laws in response to programs like ICE’s Secure Communities. Intended to deport criminal aliens, critics say it has caused those who have committed no crime to be deported or held in immigrant detention centers for long periods of time.
“It drags everybody into an unfair and unjust deportation dragnet where they have no due process rights,” Coates said. “It also damages the very tenuous trust that exists between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.”
Vallone, who did not vote for the 2011 bill on the grounds that some undocumented immigrants who have committed violent crimes in their own country could be protected by it, said he did not support the current legislation because it did not clearly define a violent crime. He said the bills could allow street gropers and subway flashers to stay in the United States.
“I support comprehensive immigration reform, but allowing people charged with crimes to remain in this country is not part of it,” he said.