The City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill last Thursday that will mostly end the city’s cooperation in a federal program that aims to deport incarcerated undocumented immigrants. Mayor Bloomberg plans to sign it into law.
Prior to the legislation, the Department of Correction voluntarily gave U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to information regarding the citizenship status of its inmates as part of the Criminal Alien Program.
The purpose is to prevent dangerous inmates here illegally from being released. They are turned over to ICE prior to the completion of their prison sentences, when possible, and then the agency holds them at a federal detention facility until it decides whether they should be deported.
ICE files a request called a civil immigration detainer with the law enforcement agency and that allows for a 48-hour hold, from the time they would have been released, so that the feds can assume custody of them.
Under the new legislation that process will not be honored any longer, if the inmates are innocent and have had their charges dismissed, according to City Councilman Danny Dromm, the chairman of the Committee on Immigration and a supporter of the bill, which he called “fair and just.”
“The New York City Police Department should not be enforcing federal immigration laws,” Dromm said.
In 2009, the DOC found that 12,710 inmates were born in foreign countries and ICE detained 3,506 of those individuals, the bill says. About 23 percent had past felony convictions and about 21 percent had been found guilty of a misdemeanor, according to the council. But more than 50 percent of those held by the feds had no prior criminal history at all. Statistics from 2010 show similar results.
“Even though some aliens may be arrested on minor criminal charges, they may also have more serious criminal backgrounds which disguise their true danger to society,” Lou Martinez, a spokesman for ICE, said in an email. “Historically, some criminal aliens with ICE detainers, who have been mistakenly released to the streets rather than being turned over to ICE custody and placed in deportation proceedings, have subsequently committed more serious crimes.”
City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who chairs the Public Safety Committee and voted against the bill, said the numbers of those with no criminal history are misleading because sometimes people are deported prior to their trials, which ICE confirmed, but Dromm claimed is not true.
Further, Vallone added, people can be arrested multiple times, for crimes such as shoplifting, for example, before they are convicted. He believes the already overburdened legal system should not be further crowded with people who aren’t supposed to be in this country in the first place.
Dromm took issue with Vallone’s view, but said that the immigration system is unjust and in need of comprehensive reform.
There are also concerns, according to an Oct. 3 report by the City Council’s Committee on Immigration, that undocumented city residents who are transferred to immigration jails in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama are kept in “deplorable conditions without adequate access to counsel, medical care, family, witnesses and evidence necessary to defend themselves against deportation orders.”
Vallone illustrated the need he sees for such immigration holds by citing the case of Milan Rysa, a 30-year-old, bodybuilder from Astoria who allegedly killed his dog by throwing it out of his third-floor apartment window.
Rysa is an illegal immigrant, according to information Vallone said he obtained from law enforcement sources. He is a native of the former Czechoslovakia and is being held at a correctional facility in the Bronx on an immigration detainer, according to both ICE and the DOC.
In general, ICE cannot reveal specific information about a person’s case unless the individual signs a privacy waiver and will not make public the time or location of a scheduled deportation so as not to endanger the security of its officers, an agency official said.
Rysa is charged with animal cruelty and second-degree reckless endangerment because the dog nearly struck two women before hitting the pavement. He could face two years in prison if convicted. He is due in court Dec. 1.
The Queens District Attorney’s Office said it could not provide information about Rysa’s immigration status. A spokesman for the NYPD said it does not collect such information because it does not want to deter potential victims or witnesses from reporting crimes for fear that they will be deported.
Vallone said he believes the alleged dog killer should be deported. Dromm would not comment on the case because Rysa has not been convicted. He would only say, “In America, everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
Rysa’s lawyer, Ryan Schwarz, did not return calls requesting comment.
The council bill states that the DOC’s involvement in the CAP program “facilitates the deportation of as many immigrants as possible, without regard to their criminal records or whether or not they actually pose a threat to society.”
“They only deport the worst of the worst,” Vallone countered. “There is no chance that any innocent victim who is somehow arrested would somehow be deported.”
The legislation further claims that the existing process creates mistrust between immigrants and law enforcement, and might prevent victims of crimes such as domestic violence and human trafficking from coming forward.
Vallone disputes that theory, noting that the police cannot share information with the federal authorities regarding the immigration status of victims or witnesses.
“The only reason there is fear is because of the irresponsible statements of elected officials,” Vallone said. “They have nothing to fear. This a completely unnecessary and dangerous bill.”
The lawmaker also noted that the Obama administration recently announced it will end deportation proceedings for undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.
The council bill, however, lists categories of people whose names would still be turned over to ICE, such as terrorists, which the body believes will further alleviate safety concerns.
Mayor Bloomberg, who had opposed the bill in the past, according to Vallone, plans to sign it into law, the Mayor’s Office said Tuesday, and has 30 days to do so. It would take effect 90 days after that.