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Bloomberg signs deportation bill, decreases risk of family separation

New law bans city jails from turning over undocumented immigrants who are first-time offenders to federal authorities

Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverto

Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverto (center) at a rally in support of their new measure to protect inmates from deportation. Photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council

Last week, we reported on a recent study that found thousands of children across the United States have gone into foster care because their parents were detained or deported for immigration violations. An immigration attorney at the Bronx Defenders, Jennifer Friedman, told us her office was currently handling at least 15 such cases. In a number of them, she said, the parents lost custody of their children “merely because they are being detained or being deported and there is nowhere else for [the child] to go.”

Yesterday, the Bloomberg Administration signed a bill that may prevent such families from being separated. Intro 656, sponsored by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and Speaker Christine Quinn, directs the city’s Department of Corrections to refrain from turning over many undocumented immigrants to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency upon their release from jail. Only those with previous criminal convictions or gang history, or who are on the terrorism watch list, will be sent to ICE for deportation.

Since the new measure will prevent parents without criminal histories from even entering the detention and deportation process, it is likely to result in fewer families being unnecessarily separated. According to a report on the bill by the New York City Council’s Committee on Immigration, ICE placed “detainers” – orders to hold for deportation proceedings – on 3,506 immigrants in New York City in 2009. While 22 percent had felony records and 20 percent had committed misdemeanors, the majority had no prior criminal convictions.

Jacki Esposito, the director of immigration advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, described the bill as “a good first step” but said that only a limited number of people would benefit from it. “The people who it pertains to would in very limited circumstances be held for the 24 hours it takes to lodge a detainer,” she said. “It would prevent detainers from being lodged against people for a first arrest. That class of people don’t get held at Rikers, they will most likely be released on their own recognizance.”

She called on the city to do more to ensure that only those who pose a serious threat to pubic safety end up being deported by ICE.