A longstanding information-sharing arrangement between local jails and federal immigration enforcement goes too far and detains too many immigrants who would otherwise be allowed to go free, City Council members said Wednesday in introducing legislation limiting which immigrant inmates can be transferred to federal custody.
New York City jails have shared information about inmates with immigration authorities for at least 15 years. They also hold prisoners who are awaiting transfer to federal facilities. But the bill’s sponsors say city officials shouldn’t be cooperating so extensively with the federal government.
"We are getting people ensnared in a broken immigration system," Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a news conference outside City Hall.
Supporters [including Make the Road New York] of her bill say city tax dollars are going toward enforcing immigration laws that should be reformed. They argue the policy separates families and corrodes public safety by making immigrants fearful of going to the police.
The legislation would prevent jails from placing immigration detainers on people who don’t have a criminal record and aren’t convicted in their current case. It would also stop the city from notifying the federal government of the inmate’s release if he or she doesn’t have outstanding warrants, was not previously ordered deported and does not appear on a terrorist watch list.
It is slated to be discussed in hearings this fall. The measure, which has the support of a majority of the council and its powerful leader, Speaker Christine Quinn, is expected to pass.
The proposal comes amid a nationwide debate over Secure Communities, a federal program that requires local law enforcement to share with immigration authorities the fingerprints of people they arrest. In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was suspending New York’s participation in the program, which had been rolled out in many counties around the state but not New York City. Massachusetts and Illinois rejected the program, only to be told they couldn’t.
Roughly 100,000 people are admitted to city jails each year, with most housed in the Rikers Island complex, according to the Department of Correction. The council, after analyzing data from the jails, found that 3,000 to 4,000 are deported as a result of cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Last year, half of those people had no previous criminal record; many were arrested for misdemeanors.
With support from 35 of the 51 council members, the measure could override an expected veto from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whom council members criticized for leaving the policy in place as he campaigned nationally for immigration reform. Spokesmen for the mayor’s office and ICE said neither comment on pending legislation.
Council member Peter Vallone, chairman of the public safety committee, said he had written to the Department of Homeland Security to express his opposition to the bill.
"I don’t think we should be taking any actions that hinder the federal government’s ability to protect us from terrorists or criminals," he said.
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