Illustration by Anthony Accardo http://bit.ly/uBhxFs
At a time when the people's trust in government is at an all-time low, our City Council Members have introduced legislation which increases the number of dangerous illegal immigrants in our neighborhoods. Under the recently passed law, Introduction 656, the New York City Department of Corrections will no longer cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents concerning approximately half of the illegal immigrants who get arrested in the City.
Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council passed Introduction 656, a bill that limits the Department of Corrections (DOC) from sharing information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents stationed at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Prior to the bill being passed, if a person was arrested and detained at Rikers, the DOC would notify ICE agents of any illegal aliens at the facility. Under the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), ICE deports illegal aliens who are incarcerated in federal, state and local prisons. ICE agents and officers part of CAP are assigned to over three hundred local jails around the country. They screen inmates to see if they are here illegally and thus subjected to deportation. If the ICE agents believe an inmate is in the country illegally, ICE places a detainer on that person. A detainer is a formal request by a law enforcement agency to hold a person up to forty-eight hours after that person would otherwise have been released. During the forty-eight hour time period, ICE assumes custody of the person in question. According to the City Council's report, "between 2004 and 2009, more than 13,000 inmates at Rikers have been placed in deportation proceedings as a result of DOC's participation in CAP."
Under Introduction 656 this cooperation will become much more limited. If the incarcerated person has no prior arrests, is not a criminal defendant and not a suspected terrorist, the DOC will not honor detainer requests from ICE. The DOC will effectively release known illegal immigrants back onto the streets who otherwise would have been deported. The Council cites two reasons for passing this bill: first, since about half the illegal immigrants detained do not have a prior conviction there is no danger to society. According to the sponsors of the legislation, by removing illegal immigrants who do not have a criminal history, the only thing deportation is accomplishing is splitting up families. Second, cooperation between the DOC and ICE is "eroding trust between immigrants and local law enforcement." The idea is that now illegal immigrants who have knowledge about criminal activity will be more forthcoming to police because they will no longer fear deportation. If you hold the same views as Christine Quinn and do not consider it a crime to enter the United States illegally, at first glance this new law seems relatively benign. However, upon closer scrutiny these arguments quickly lose all merit.
Legal Loopholes and Abandonment of Logic
Even if you believe all current illegal immigrants in this country should be given amnesty and granted citizenship, you should still not support this new law. Introduction 656 will increase the number of violent criminals on the streets of New York.
First, the DOC does not necessarily have access to the illegal immigrant's personal history. The City Council's Chair of the Public Safety Committee, Councilman Peter Vallone, cited this fact as a reason he is against this law. In a press statement Councilman Vallone stated, "As a former prosecutor, I can tell you that many dangerous criminals who have recently snuck into our country have no criminal record. This policy will only succeed in making our streets more dangerous." Councilman Vallone goes on to use two examples to illustrate how this law will release criminals back into our neighborhoods. This is part of Councilman Vallone's statement: "Mylan Rysa, recently arrested for killing his dog by throwing it out of his apartment window, and Carlos Salazar Cruz, convicted last year of raping and killing a young woman in Flushing. Rysa has two prior assault arrests, which resulted in convictions for violations (which are not considered crimes), while Cruz had no previous record. Under this legislation the city would not have shared arrest information with Immigration officials, and therefore, had Cruz's case not resulted in a conviction (Rysa's case is still pending) he would be free to roam our streets."
Note that according to this new law, Rysa's prior criminal history did not rise to a level deemed violent enough to be considered a threat to society. In Cruz's case, with no prior conviction, Cruz would have been considered safe to release. Councilman Vallone reveals the startlingly large legal loop holes through which violent criminals will escape out of the hands of ICE agents and back into our neighborhoods.
Second, according to Intro. 656, if the illegal immigrant committed the crime as a youth, he or she gets a pass.
The law states that "Persons adjudicated as youthful offenders, pursuant to section 720.10(6) of the Criminal Procedure Law, or juvenile delinquents, pursuant to section 301.2(1) of the Family Court Act, shall not be considered convicted of a crime." Diving further into the details of 720.10, "youth" can mean anyone from the age of 16 to 19 years old. Previous convictions for youths under this law can include violent assaults and rape. The fact that the illegal immigrant committed crimes, broke the law to enter the country and then managed to get to Rikers Island as an adult is of no concern to Speaker Quinn and the City Council. Clearly, the City Council is portraying themselves as wise enough to know that henceforth such individuals will cease their criminal habits and become law-abiding members of society. It is this level of arrogance which makes the average citizen cynical about politics and pessimistic about the direction our country is heading.
The logic of Introduction 656 may as well have been ripped straight out of a George Orwell novel. Speaker Quinn's argument in favor of Introduction 656 is that it will increase the safety of New Yorkers.
To follow the City Council's logic, now that ICE reduces the amount of illegal immigrants it deports from Rikers, people in the country illegally will be more willing to come forward with information they have about criminal behavior. Speaker Quinn and sponsors of the law provide no causal logic for this line of reasoning. It is as if their ability to declare something to be true makes it so.
If distrust between local law enforcement and the illegal immigrant community is a problem, why not directly address this issue? It would make more sense if the City Council made clear to illegal immigrants that any knowledge they have about criminal activity will in no way lead to them being turned over to ICE agents. Instead of taking measures along these lines, the City Council sponsored legislation that invents a problem when none previously existed and then pretends another problem has been solved.
The Words of Charlatans
The wording of the law is endowed with a linguistic genius that any third world dictator would admire. First, the law is inconspicuously titled:
"A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to persons not to be detained." Would it be so disastrous not to mention the focus of the law, which is illegal immigration? The Committee on Immigration also managed to produce a report and then writes a bill concerning the deportation of illegal immigrants and never actually uses the phrase "illegal immigrants" within the text. The closest the Committee ever comes to is "undocumented immigrants." Second, the bill assumes a moral equivalency between illegal and legal immigrants. Ignoring this distinction is ferociously insulting to the millions of immigrants who came here legally and reveals a complete lack of empathy with those individuals who respected our laws.
The wording used in the law strikes at the philosophical fallacies of its authors. If a law is virtuous there is no reason to mask its purpose behind meaningless verbiage. Illegal immigration is obviously a complicated subject which has direct effect on all Americans. There is no easy, local solution, for a complicated national problem.
Why create an issue, which only aggravates your constituents' existing fears about the unprecedented level of illegal immigration currently underway? Trying to understand the City Council's moral reasoning on this subject will only leave you more frustrated. There is no reason to support this measure, regardless about how you feel about the larger issue of illegal immigration.
Anxiety levels about where our country is heading are incredibly high. When people talk about losing the country they grew up in, they are talking about decisions such as Introduction 656. It is as if respect for the rule of law has no meaning to this current generation of political leaders. A democratic country cannot survive long if its citizens do not trust the government to protect them. In a city of over 8 million people, we will either be a melting pot or at each other's throats. Part of what holds such a large community together is the understanding that we all play by the same rules and are subject to the same laws. The acts taken by the City Council (and now Mayor Bloomberg) will have larger, unforeseen ramifications that will make us all rue the day Introduction 656 was passed.
‒ Craig Caruana