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October 28, 2014

Positive Changes On The Horizon For Immigrants Detained In NYC

By Michael H. Joseph

Throughout American history, millions of people around the world have left their homes and places of birth for a chance to start a new life–and they continue to do so to this day. Our New York City attorneys believe that immigrants should be afforded every opportunity to pursue the American Dream, and because of that, our lawyers are constantly monitoring developments in the New York City area for new laws passed that affect the immigrant community so that we can better represent our clients, many of whom are immigrants.

In recent years, the enforcement of immigration policies have been far more effective at destroying families than at upholding any semblance of a rational or humane policy. The United States spends more on immigration enforcement combined budgets of the FBI, ATF, DEA, and Secret Service by almost $4 million, and under President Obama, deportations have increased to over 2 million. After witnessing the damage caused to immigrant communities and families, not to mention the literal expense that states pay in housing detainees, progressive-leaning states like New York have begun to opt out of some voluntary programs with the federal government.

Last week, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito introduced legislation whereby New York City would stop honoring detention requests by the United States immigration authorities absent a federal warrant and proof that the subject to be detained had been convicted of a violent and serious crime. Our criminal defense attorneys view this as a positive development in the law. Under the legislation, the Correction Department would be prohibited from using its resources to enforce civil immigration laws unless it was to further “honor a valid detainer request.” A detainer is a request to the City to continue to hold the person until they can transfer him or her to an immigration detention center.

Another bill moving forward seeks to close the offices that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently has on Rikers Island. Rikers Island is a pre-trial detention center for criminal defendants in New York City who cannot make bail requirements, and many of the detainees on Rikers are innocent or have only committed minor offenses. ICE, meanwhile, is one of the major arms of the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Corrections (DOC) has allowed ICE agents a free hand to interrogate detainees held at the jail facility. When ICE finds somebody who might be deportable, ICE puts a “detainer” on that person. The city usually obliges, but it does so by custom, not by law. ICE typically issued over 3,000 detainers annually, of which only 22% of the detainees have had prior felonies and over half have never been convicted of a crime before.

To support their position against detainers, city officials and advocates note that because federal detainer requests are voluntary, municipalities that honor them may be violating the Constitution. Federal Courts in states have ruled this year that detainers did not amount to the probable cause required for people to be kept in jail.

New York seems poised to take a practical and humane step forward in providing full representation for its citizens, and our lawyers applaud the City Council Speaker’s move. We hope that other cities will move forward, and we will continue to monitor developments as they pertain to our clients.

 
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