Bill Will Limit City’s Participation in Secure Communities Program

City Hall – City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, together with lead sponsor Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito today announced new legislative action that will reduce the harsh impact on immigrant families of the federal Secure Communities program. Members of the Council’s Immigration Committee, the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus as well as members of New York City’s immigrant community joined the Speaker and Council Member Mark-Viverito. Representatives from advocacy groups including the Center for Popular Democracy, Make the Road New York, Sanctuary for Families and the Legal Aid Society were also present at today’s announcement.

The proposed legislation would limit the city’s ability to hand over immigrants who pose no threat to public safety for deportation proceedings. The bills, which will build on the Council’s prior work, would limit the circumstances in which the city can honor requests from immigration authorities to detain and deport arrestees who pose no threat to public safety.

“Families are destroyed and ripped apart each and every day because of a dragnet unit that targets immigrants. We are putting an end to that,” said Speaker Quinn. “This bill will prevent the unnecessary deportation of immigrants who have no criminal history or have only been convicted of crimes that pose no real danger to the community. We are making sure that our criminal justice system is fair – not on the hunt for immigrants who many or may not have done something wrong.”

Currently, because of the activation of the Secure Communities program in New York City, the moment an immigrant encounters the criminal justice system, they are at risk of deportation. Under the current system, immigrants can be detained and deported regardless of immigration status, age, criminal record or the crime at issue. The legislation announced today will prohibit the city from indiscriminately handing over immigrants for deportation.

Under the proposed legislation, the city would be prohibited from indiscriminately honoring detainer requests from the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Instead, the City could only honor a detainer request if the person held has been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor within the past ten years, has an outstanding criminal warrant, is identified as a known gang member, is a possible match in the terrorist database, has an outstanding warrant of removal, currently is or has been subject to a final order of removal, has a pending felony charge or certain pending misdemeanor charges including misdemeanor sex abuse, gun possession, driving while intoxicated or the violation of an order of protection.

“New York City continues to be at the forefront of protecting our immigrant communities from unjust deportations,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I am proud that this Council is again ushering through legislation that expands our city’s ability to have discretion in its collaboration with federal immigration enforcement. This legislation comes in response to the forced roll out of Secure Communities in our state, which threatens to funnel immigrant New Yorkers directly from central booking to deportation centers. We must extend to our police precincts the same protections we put in place in our city’s jails to prevent the unfair deportation of immigrant New Yorkers. We also want to strengthen the current law to ensure that immigrant youth and immigrants with old or minor convictions are clearly protected from deportation. I thank Speaker Christine Quinn and Immigration Chair Danny Dromm for their leadership, as well as Make the Road New York and the Cardozo Law School for their continued advocacy.”

“Too many innocent immigrants are unfairly being detained and deported because of our broken system. We cannot continue tearing families apart and destabilizing immigrant communities that pose no threat to public safety,” said Daniel Dromm, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Immigrant Affairs. “Our legislation will prevent the needless deportation of immigrants, while keeping our neighborhoods safe. I thank the Speaker for her leadership on this issue as well as all of advocates for their hard work on this bill.”

“This legislation will have an overwhelmingly positive effect on our communities, ensuring that hard working immigrants, who have always been the drivers of innovation and economic growth in this city, will remain here with their families,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “This legislation maintains the goal of keeping our communities safe from violent offenders, while allowing people who have sought to better their lives to continue providing for their families. I applaud the efforts of my colleagues for their creativity and commitment to such a valuable group of people in our city.”

“Overly aggressive Federal immigration enforcement policies erode trust between local governments and the people they serve, destroy families, damage immigrant communities, and impose substantial, unnecessary costs on city taxpayers,” said Nisha Agarwal, Deputy Director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a national immigrant advocacy organization. “This bill will significantly limit these negative impacts and ensure that New York City remains a model for the nation in welcoming immigrants and enacting laws that create an inclusive society.”

“This intuitive legislation acknowledges that while we wait for this nation to implement immigration reform, as a city, we have to continue moving forward to protect our immigrants from counter-productive policies,” said Council Member Robert Jackson, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. “It will help create an environment where immigrants can grow to trust that in contributing to society and upholding public safety, they will not be betrayed by the legal or law enforcement system.”

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, Co-Chair of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, stated, “The goal of good immigration policies should always balance law enforcement and the rights of immigrants. This proposed legislation will continue the progress we have made in making our ‘country of immigrants’ secure and just.”

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez expressed her support of the City Council’s efforts in stating, “For too long, the misnamed Secure Communities initiative has divided our families while wasting law enforcement resources on law abiding immigrants who are seeking only to earn a living. It is high time the City reduce its participation in this misguided program and I strongly support legislation that would further this goal.”

“As a representative of a heavily immigrant community, I have been deeply concerned by the impact Secure Communities could have on innocent families. The legislation being proposed today helps address these concerns and maintains our city’s commitment to public safety through the efforts of the DOC and NYPD. Government, on the city, state and federal levels, must approach comprehensive immigration reform in a way that is both compassionate and just. Still, New York City cannot afford inaction while such a grand solution is debated. As such, I hope to work closely with Speaker Quinn and my fellow colleagues with the Council’s Committee on Immigration to pass the best local remedy possible.” said Council Member Jumaane Williams.

The Secure Communities program run by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and was activated in New York earlier this year. The stated mission of the program is to deport criminal aliens and repeat immigration violators. Yet the program has been run as a dragnet; detaining and deporting immigrants with no criminal record or who are accused of committing low level offenses. Under the program the federal government sends the fingerprints of anyone arrested in the City to federal immigration authorities and if those fingerprints indicate that the arrestee may be amenable to deportation for any reason ICE issues a “detainer” requesting the City to hold them and hand them over — regardless of the offense they are accused of or whether they have a criminal record and regardless of their ties to the community.

The legislation discussed today will be introduced in January. Following its introduction, it will be referred to the Council’s Immigration Committee, chaired by Council Member Danny Dromm. A hearing on the matter is expected within the first three months of the new year.