New York City is taking a bold and defiant stand against the Trump administration, vowing to protect its immigrant population, even if it costs the city billions in federal aid. By pledging to maintain its sanctuary city status, the mayor has talked up how the city has to defend its “law-abiding” immigrant population. But with the NYPD’s current policy of Broken Windows policing, which focuses on quality-of-life issues, as well as the decades of over-policing of communities of color, New York City itself has put far more people at risk for deportation than its “sanctuary” reputation would have you believe. And with Trump’s new executive orders, issued Wednesday, which puts anyone who’s ever been arrested or just interacted with the criminal justice system a priority for removal, that number has suddenly escalated a great deal.
“The city is going to fight back against Trump, which is great, but my main concern is that the language we’re using to describe who we’re fighting on behalf of is still being couched as ‘law-abiding’ citizens,” Tina Luongo, an attorney who heads the criminal practice at Legal Aid, told the Voice.
“What about everyone who’s had a low-level arrest? The woman selling churros? The delivery person set up by the NYPD to steal a bike? These are things that are putting people at risk right now and will continue to keep them at risk in the future.”
The troubling language in Trump’s executive order changes the deportation priorities of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by building on Obama’s priority of targeting criminal offenders for deportation to now include immigrants who have “have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved,” or “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” So not only do these orders completely deprive immigrants of due process by encouraging deportation before a criminal case is resolved, but it makes anyone who has ever violated the law (whether they’ve been arrested or not) a removal priority. For a city whose policing is focused almost exclusively on low-income communities of color, this new executive order makes a desperate situation even worse.
“This executive order is trying to normalize the mass criminalization of communities, particularly communities of color, immigrants, muslims, groups that are deemed to be threats and need more intensive and abusive policing,” said Genia Blaser, a staff attorney at the Immigrant Defense Project, which recently released a toolkit to help immigrant communities prepare for the Trump administration.
Not only has the NYPD’s Broken Windows policy of policing helped create criminal records for thousands of immigrants, it has also handed over personal information to the FBI through its policy of fingerprinting everyone it arrests, whether they’re ever charged with a crime or not. That information is then sent to the FBI’s criminal database, which, in turn, is shared with ICE.
In conversations with the Voice, the de Blasio administration seems content to tout the city’s detainer policy, which mandates that the city not hand over people it arrests to ICE unless they’ve committed a crime the city deems as “serious.” But ICE can still track down and arrest immigrants within city limits, often using the information gleaned from the NYPD’s sharing of fingerprints and personal information.
But now that even being given a violation could be considered something that makes you a priority for ICE, the NYPD’s insistence on criminalizing even the lowest offenses becomes all the more dangerous for its immigrant community.
In a statement, City Hall spokesperson Austin Finan said the de Blasio administration has been driving down low-level arrests since it took office. “This Mayor has already led a dramatic shift away from low-level arrests to offenses that can be more effectively dealt with through summonses,” Finan wrote. “Furthermore, the number of interactions between individuals and the police has dropped precipitously in recent years, with 19% fewer misdemeanor arrests recorded between 2012 and 2015.”
But unless more aggressive action is taken by the mayor and city council, Luongo, the Legal Aid attorney, wonders how the city can continue to consider itself a true haven for immigrants.
“If we want to be a sanctuary city, and it certainly seems like we’re committed to that idea, then we should immediately decriminalize low-level offenses, work on some amnesty provisions for prior low-level crimes and violation, and try to expunge as many criminal records as possible,” Luongo says. For Blaser, she believes the city could work harder on pushing back on fingerprint sharing, something they’d need to coordinate with the state.
Since the election of Trump, immigrants have feared how Trump would intensify Obama’s already destructive deportation policy. Now that his plan has been revealed, and the battle lines drawn, the city seems prepared to truly double down on its support of immigrants. The question is now whether it will finally back up its rhetoric with meaningful reform in time to save as many New Yorkers as possible. The clock is ticking.