Thank you Chairman Dromm and members of the New York City Council Committee on Immigration for holding this important hearing on the resources available to protect the city’s immigrants from deportation. I have long been concerned with these critical issues and would like to offer my support for the proposed resolution to encourage the continuation and expansion of the Immigrant Pardon Board. Thank you Council Member Rodriguez for introducing this important resolution. I would additionally like to raise other concerns I believe are key to protecting immigrant communities from unjust and inhumane deportation.
We live in a city where generations of immigrants to the U.S. got their start, and many have remained to make New York their home. Our city and country continue to flourish because of the positive contributions these immigrants have made in every facet of our lives. Forty percent of our city’s population is foreign born and approximately half of those 3.3 million people are noncitizens at constant risk of deportation. With 20% of the city’s population directly affected by risk of deportation any time they are arrested, we cannot afford to overlook the dire consequences of deportation for so many New Yorkers, their families, and our great city.
There are a number of important initiatives that can protect the city’s immigrants from deportation. First, is the resolution you are discussing today; to support the continuation and expansion of the Immigrant Pardon Board. The creation of the Board last May was a significant step in the direction of fairness and justice in the application of immigration law in our state. The Board has served as an essential step in the review of deportation cases that had been previously overlooked. Each year pardon petitions are filed through the Executive Clemency Unit with the intention of preventing unjust deportation of legal permanent residents with minor convictions. Prior to the creation of the Immigrant Pardon Board, systematic review of these pardon applications was all but impossible due to the number of requests the Executive Clemency Unit is tasked with processing.
The Immigrant Pardon Board has been able to infuse the process of review with fairness by gathering information on pardon applications and determining in which cases a pardon would affect a deportation judgment. The Board has also made important recommendations to the Governor on the particular facts and circumstances of each case that may warrant further review for potential pardon. The Board has been able to note, for example, when a permanent resident has made continuous positive contributions to society, when their deportation may tear them away from a U.S. citizen child or spouse, or when their deportation is the result of an unjust application of retroactivity by federal immigration law. The process utilized by the Board allows the Governor’s Office to avoid the arbitrary application of review that has harmed many of our state’s permanent residents in the past.
In addition to this Resolution, I believe it is imperative for our city to recognize the importance of injecting fairness and justice at the initial crossroad of immigration and criminal law. In March of 2010, the Supreme Court took a major step in this direction with the landmark case Padilla v. Kentucky. The Court recognized the overlap of immigration and criminal law and the severe immigration consequences that even a minor criminal charge could play in the life of an immigrant. To help prevent the injustice that many immigrants have faced, the Court held that criminal defense counsel, under the Sixth Amendment, have a duty to investigate and advise their clients of the potential immigration consequences of their criminal proceedings.
It is essential that we ensure that sufficient immigration assistance is guaranteed by our city’s criminal defense organizations that are serving one of our most vulnerable populations. The city must formalize and clarify requirements in its contracts for criminal defense services and should take two important steps to achieve the goal set forth in Padilla. First, the city should require each contracting defender organization to have a written immigration plan to outline how it will fulfill its responsibilities under Padilla. The city should consult with defenders and experts in developing the standard of service that is expected under these plans. Second, the city should provide an appropriate amount of additional funding necessary to ensure these immigration plans can be effectively implemented. Investigating and advising on such issues requires significant expertise and we must support our community public defenders, who already have limited resources, in fulfilling this critical constitutional requirement. I understand the Criminal Justice Coordinator has shown strong commitment to this issue and we hope they can further strengthen these protections.
The other issues I would like to address today are New York’s participation and cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Secure Communities program (S-Comm) and the Criminal Alien program. The S-Comm program requires state and local law enforcement authorities to provide fingerprints of all arrestees to federal immigration authorities in order to identify immigrants eligible for deportation. The program highlights an association between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities that creates a sense of fear and distrust of police amongst immigrant communities. As a result, this segment of the population will be hesitant to call upon the police for assistance, creating a serious threat to public safety. Additionally, a recent study has shown that a vast majority (79%) of people deported due to S-Comm are non-criminals or people picked up for lower level offenses. This raises concerns that S-Comm may be facilitating racial and ethnic profiling by local law enforcement. As ICE has made clear, states and localities will bear any additional costs associated with the program, including liability for challenged police actions. New York can ill afford these unnecessary expenditures that do not benefit our community. It is vital that we support the rescinding of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with ICE and DHS authorizing S-Comm in New York in order to eliminate serious public safety, civil rights and cost concerns. In December of last year I, along with Chairman Dromm, Council Member Rodriguez, as well as several other members of this committee, and dozens of city, state, and federal elected officials sent a letter to Governor Paterson – urging him to rescind the MOA.
Similarly, the participation in the Criminal Alien Program at Riker’s Island has had an adverse effect on the city’s immigrant population. The Department of Correction’s (DOC) voluntary cooperation with ICE through the Program has led to the annual transfer of three to four thousand New Yorkers into inhumane immigration detention conditions leading to eventual deportation. The current practice of collaborating with ICE and allowing them expansive access to Riker’s facilities is a wasteful expenditure of our city’s already strained resources. Our city cannot afford to be involved in a system lacking accountability and transparency; a system that has been separating long time immigrant residents who have contributed to our city from their families. It is critical that the city adopt a policy clearly separating ICE operations from Riker’s Island ensuring that our local police will not to be in the business of immigration enforcement.
New York City should use its resources properly - not to deport New Yorkers, but rather to keep NY families together, promote public safety, limit unnecessary costs and liabilities, and protect the right of its most vulnerable residents. Adopting the current resolution regarding the Pardon Panel is an important step in protecting the city’s immigrants from deportation but it is not enough. I urge you to consider the other policy initiatives I have raised today as an important way to protect our city’s immigrants and manage resources appropriately.
Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to testify at this important hearing. I look forward to working with the Committee on Immigration, and the rest of the City Council to continue to support policies that better our great city.
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