Legislation to alter immigration laws

Stephanie Grella, contributing writer

The New York City Council announced new legislation that will reform immigrant detention laws to better protect undocumented workers and their families. The legislation aims to limit the involvement of Immigration and Customs Enforcement by no longer honoring requests from immigration authorities unless a federal judge issues a warrant.

Once a federal warrant is acquired, detention requests will only be honored if the person in question has committed a serious crime in the past five years, or is on the FBI terrorist watchlist.

Spearheading the effort, City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito introduced this legislation at the Oct. 7 City Council meeting. In a public statement on Oct. 2, Mark-Viverito expressed her enthusiasm for rectifying the city’s detention laws, hoping to improve the well-being of all New York immigrants.

“By further limiting ICE’s role in the detention and deportation of immigrant New Yorkers, we set the national standard for the treatment of our immigrant population,” Mark-Viverito said. “We cannot allow for immigrant families looking for a better life for themselves and their children to be needlessly torn apart because of gaps in our laws. As I’ve said before: if Congress won’t act, then we must.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Homeland Security held 429,000 immigrants in over 250 facilities across the country in 2011. Since 2008, more than 1 million immigrants have been detained and deported from the United States.

New York’s role in immigration law enforcement has been a point of contention for the past several years. Mark-Viverito first suggested reform in 2011, when national immigrant detention was at its peak. Now, the speaker of the New York City Council has gained support from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Committee on Immigration chair Carlos Menchaca, New York City Council members and many others.

Nancy Morawetz, a professor at the NYU School of Law who runs the Immigration Rights Clinic at NYU Law, said the legislation is necessary to improve the relationship between immigrants and police.

Morawetz said documented immigrants will benefit from this legislation just as much as undocumented workers and families will.

“If they are arrested, they can be placed in immigration detention even when criminal charges are dismissed,” Morawetz said. “Without this proposal, immigration authorities impose detainers with little cause and certainly not the kind of process that is required to honor constitutional rights.”

While the Council praises Mark-Viverito for successfully bringing this proposal to fruition, ICE remains determined to detain those arrested on criminal charges in an attempt to assure that dangerous criminals are not released into the community.

“ICE will continue to work cooperatively with law enforcement partners throughout New York as the agency seeks to enforce its priorities through the identification and removal of convicted criminals and other public safety threats,” a public statement from ICE read.

Morawetz said the proposal is important for improving the relationship between the New York Police Department and members of the community.

“Without this proposal, any encounter between an immigrant and the police raises the risk of immigration detention,” Morawetz said. “Separating the criminal justice system from the immigration system fosters better relationships between the police and the community.”

A version of this article appeared in Wednesday, Oct. 8 print edition. Email Stephanie Grella at [email protected].