With Donald Trump’s Executive Order wreaking havoc on immigrants and refugees across the world, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to do everything in his power to protect the city’s millions of immigrants. On Sunday, he stood in Battery Park City and announced to thousands of protesters that he was not going to let immigrants “be treated like people who have done harm when they haven’t done a single thing wrong.” On Monday however, de Blasio continued doing just the opposite, and signaled that he was interested in further cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
While testifying in front of the assembly as part of the state’s budget process, de Blasio told member Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican from Staten Island, that he would look into expanding the 170 offenses that triggers the city’s cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, offenses that were exempted from the city’s “detainer law,” which discourages cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, and the bedrock of de Blasio’s version of a sanctuary city.
“If there are some offenses that we should add, we are willing to do that always,” de Blasio told the assembly.
Since Trump’s election, de Blasio has refused to look into the city’s policing of low-level offenses, known as “Broken Windows,” that has long put immigrants at risk for deportation. This weekend, protests sprung up across the country after Trump’s “Muslim Ban” executive order was signed on Friday evening. But days before that, a separate Trump executive order put millions of immigrants in even more immediate danger of deportation, and since then de Blasio has refused to budge on the issue of low-level policing. But Monday was the first time that the mayor signaled he would be open to expanding the ways that he would be putting immigrants at risk.
“It’s hard to tell whether the mayor doesn’t understand criminal justice policy, including its impact on immigration law, or is just disingenuous to a Trump-ian degree,” said city council member Rory Lancman, who on Monday wrote a letter to de Blasio asking him to take immediate action by shifting low-level offenses, like turnstile jumping, from the criminal to the civil system, thereby avoiding putting immigrants at risk. He began his letter by telling the mayor that “talk is cheap.”
City Hall was quick to explain de Blasio’s seemingly unconscionable reasoning before the assembly. “The aim is to have a list of offenses that smartly balances the public’s safety with our goal of keeping families together,” said deputy press secretary Rosemary Boeglin. “We suspect the list will always be the subject of thoughtful alteration and conversation.”
De Blasio’s insistence on Broken Windows policing seems all the more ridiculous to Lancman considering that de Blasio campaigned on criminal justice reform, and yet has stymied efforts for meaningful legislation that would decriminalize low-level offenses that pose no danger to society at large.
“The City Council, the last two years, has been pushing very, very hard to decriminalize these low-level quality of life offenses, turn them into civil offenses, where people could still be held accountable for these breaches of peace and order, just not in the criminal justice system,” Lancman told the Voice. “The mayor and the police commissioner, who was Bratton at the time, fought back vigorously.”
While on WNYC last week, the mayor said he was not open to ending arresting people for turnstile jumping because it helps police locate “a weapon on someone or an outstanding warrant et cetera.” This was the same reasoning that the Bloomberg administration used to justify its unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policy, something that de Blasio campaigned against while running for mayor.
Eventually, on five low-level offenses, the City Council and de Blasio were able to reach a compromise: a separate civil offense that paralleled each criminal offense was created, and the penalty would be similar to a parking ticket, not an arrest. The NYPD promised to create guidelines for when to enforce the civil offense and not the criminal one, but, more than a year later, has yet to issue these guidelines. As of 2015, 30% of turnstile jumpers are charged with a criminal offense.
On Tuesday, the Voice asked the mayor at a press conference whether he would be speeding up the guidelines for charging people with civil offenses instead of criminal offenses, and if he was still committed to quality-of-life policing following Lancman’s letter.
“We believe fundamentally that the executive order is going to be legally challenged, if it’s implemented, not only by us, but by cities in other states,” the mayor told the Voice. “We believe it will be effectively challenged. That’s where the conversation should begin and end on the impact of the executive order.”
When it came to low-level offenses, the mayor said there was an “ongoing effort” to figure out the best way to go about addressing low-level offenses and quality-of-life offense, however he failed to identify any of those efforts, and said that NYPD Commissioner, James O’Neill, “believes that it’s ideal to give our officers multiple tools in different situations.” All possible reforms to broken windows policing would be “based on public safety for New Yorkers, and not something emanating from Washington, D.C..” The mayor was then seconded by the police commissioner, who stressed the NYPD’s shift towards community policing would be giving officers more “discretion” to give “warnings.”
Councilman Lancman is not impressed with this line of thinking, nor does he think it goes anywhere far enough.
“The mayor, with less of a stroke of a pen than it took Donald Trump to issue his executive orders, could direct the NYPD to send all the people who were caught allegedly jumping the turnstile to the civil Transit Adjudication Bureau and protect those from being deported if they are not a citizen,” Lancman said. “Right now, it’s entirely the mayor’s call.”
According to a report on “sanctuary cities” released by Mijente, a national organization committed to fighting for the rights of Latinx people, for cities to be true sanctuaries, they must explore “public safety approaches that do not result in arrest.” For whatever reason, Bill de Blasio seems dead-set on standing in the way of that.
“The mayor can make as many speeches as he wants in the shadow of the statue of liberty or at the airport,” Lancman says. “But unless he is actually using the tools that are at his disposal to prevent unreasonable deportations, then it’s all talk.”
It would appear that right now, Mayor de Blasio is actively helping Trump’s deportation machine while still touting the city’s “sanctuary” status. With the city standing to lose as much as $7 billion as Trump withholds federal funding for “sanctuary jurisdictions,” New York should take steps to ensure that it actually is one, and not confuse the mayor’s grandstanding for meaningful action. The city’s about to be seriously short on dollars, and thanks to the mayor’s cheap talk, we’ll be losing that money without even taking a true stand for our immigrants.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 1, 2017