Mayor Bill de Blasio conducted a public hearing at City Hall on Wednesday for two bills that would establish significant protections for the city’s undocumented immigrants.
Both bills have been approved by the Council. But under city regulations, the mayor must conduct a public hearing before he signs the measures into law.
Intros 486-A and 487-A, both introduced by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito last month, would reduce the city’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities and remove Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents from Rikers Island.
Intro 487-A, which has the support of immigrant rights groups and the mayor, would require the NYPD and the Department of Correction to ignore detainer requests for people being held a Rikers unless a federal judge issues a warrant, if the person has committed a serious crime in the last five years or if they’re on terrorist watch list.
“[This] will prevent undocumented immigrants who pose no harm from further civil immigration penalties,” de Blasio said. “The bill strikes the appropriate balance between public safety and protecting the rights of our fellow New Yorkers who are immigrants.”
Intro 486-A would remove all ICE officers from Rikers and require the federal agency to shut down the office it has there. Until now, ICE officers at Rikers have been able to access inmates’ records, including their immigration status. The access allows the agency to hold an inmate and turn over their name to immigration authorities to begin deportation procedures even if they haven’t committed a serious crime.
Nisha Agarwal, commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said the legislation will prevent 2,000 to 3,000 immigrants from being kept in city custody every year. Being undocumented is not a criminal penalty, but rather a civil matter which does not require people to be held in custody.
“The people who will benefit from these bills—both documented and undocumented—are people who have ties to our city, people who are working, raising their families and contributing to our community,”
The bills also would help increase confidence in law enforcement among people who fear that reporting crimes or seeking help from the police because they are afraid of being deported, Agarwal said. She also said the city will better use law enforcement resources for safety rather than enforcing federal law.
“[Police] attention should be focused on this task instead of facilitating the deportation of members of our community where there is no public safety risk,” Agarwal said.
According to data provided by the Council, D.O.C. statistics show the department complied with 3,047 detainer request between October 2012 and September 2013.
Cesar Perez, a member of Make the Road NY, an immigration rights advocacy group testified in favor of the bill. Perez’s father has been in a immigration detention center for the past month after being arrested.
“He did not know he had an order of deportation from 20 years ago,” Perez said. “If these bills are signed it will be helpful not just for immigrants, but for me a citizen.”
Perez has had to quit school and work to support his family since his father’s arrest.
During his testimony, de Blasio stood across the room listening and nodding in agreement.
The bills had wide support in the Council last month with the exception of the Republican caucus and one Democrat, all of whom cited public safety concerns.
After the hearing, de Blasio signed three bills into law.
– Intro 82-A will require taxi and livery cabs to display signs warning that assaulting a driver is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
– Intro 403-A will require the Department of Education to report information on school guidance counselors and social workers publicly.
– Intro 438 formally establishes the creation of the West Shore Business Industrial on Staten Island.
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