Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg recognizes that the federal immigration system is dysfunctional, he is not aware that New York City’s own policies contribute to the deportations of many immigrants. It’s about time the mayor disentangles city agencies from the worst parts of the overall immigration system.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) has become the open door through which New York introduces itself into the deplorable system that detains immigrants. The DOC’s immigration policies implicate the city in the worst aspects of ICE’s destructive practices, through which ICE perpetuates a heavily flawed system.
For a long time now, the city has facilitated, at its own cost, ICE’s arbitrary and irrational program that arrests anyone they think could be deported. This includes legal residents (those with green cards), people without a criminal record, and vulnerable New Yorkers, like minors, the elderly, the sick, and people seeking protection like victims of domestic violence.
From its headquarters on Rikers Island, ICE orders "arrest warrants" for any and all foreign-born individuals who they believe are suspicious, including people with minor immigration violations. Guilt or innocence is not a factor in this equation. Many immigrants are thrown into ICE custody before even having a trial or being convicted of any crime.
This practice has serious consequences for the city’s finances and its communities. The DOC spends tens of millions of dollars every year to keep individuals in jail who have received arrest warrants from ICE.
Families are split up: parents, brothers, sisters, and other loved ones have been taken from them. And the city is less safe because the immigrant community increasingly avoids the police out of fear that they too will become trapped in a broken immigration system. The mayor says that he is obeying the law and doesn’t have any alternative except to help ICE destroy our communities. He is mistaken. The federal government has clearly stated that arrest warrants issued by ICE are only requests, not legally mandated. The city doesn’t have to obey them. The city doesn’t have to provide ICE with rent-free space on Rikers Island. The city doesn’t have to give ICE agents special access to the DOC’s database.
All these practices are decided by the Mayor’s Office. Mayor Bloomberg could order the DOC tomorrow to stop assisting ICE with its devastating efforts to deport everyone who passes through the city’s jails. He could implement a different a more sensible program, like ones that exist in other jurisdictions, where it can determine when it is, and when it is not, in the city’s interest to help ICE deport a resident from this great city. If the mayor makes these changes in our city, he will have more credibility in the immigrant community regarding his efforts to push for immigration reform nationwide.
In Op/Ed section of Edition 462 17 February 2011
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