Today Mayor Bloomberg will sign off on two hefty pieces of immigration legislation that will maintain New York’s reputation as one of the most immigrant-friendly cities in the nation.
The two laws, which passed 40-7 in City Council at the end of February, are a reaction to Secure Communities, the highly controversial federal solution to immigration-enforcement that expanded to New York last May. Under that plan, the fingerprints of anybody passing through local or state jails are sent to the Department of Homeland Security and run through its database. If a match is found showing that a suspect is an illegal immigrant or is a non-citizen with a criminal record, a “detainer” will likely be issued, requesting that the police hold the person until he or she is handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
However, it is up to the given municipality whether or not to honor these detainer requests. “These detainers are 100 percent voluntary,” Daniel Coates, a lead organizer for Make the Road New York, the city’s largest membership-based immigrant organization, said in an interview. “It’s entirely in the municipality’s discretion.” Opponents of the federal policy argue that it deports many immigrants with no criminal histories who were arrested for minor offenses.
Now the city is taking steps to limit the extent to which the detainers can be enforced. “The city obviously cannot dictate federal immigration policy, but it does have control over its own law enforcement,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, one of the legislation’s sponsors, at a press conference in February. “We can’t tell ICE what they can or can’t do. But we as the City Council can tell the Department of Correction what they can and can’t do, and, in some cases, the police department what they can and can’t do.”
The laws stop both the NYPD and the Department of Correction from enforcing detainers on individuals who have no criminal record other than a pending misdemeanor charge. They don’t, however, block detainers on inmates convicted of a felony or misdemeanor within 10 years of the arrest, those awaiting charges or with outstanding criminal warrants, or those included in a federal gang database or on a terrorist watch list.