Category Archives: Press (New York)

Bill Thompson Asks Obama to Keep Immigrant Fingerprinting Program Out of New York (Politicker)

Bill Thompson Asks Obama to Keep Immigrant Fingerprinting Program Out of New York

by Hunter Walker

Former Comptroller and current mayoral candidate Bill Thompson wrote a letter to President Barack Obama today asking him not to implement the controversial Secure Communities fingerprinting program in New York. The  program involves checking fingerprints of people arrested by local or state police in a Department of Homeland Security database that contains immigration records. If an offender is found to be an illegal immigrant police contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which can request for the person to be detained up to 48 hours and taken by federal agents.

“I am writing to ask you to respect the objections of New York State leaders and reverse the position taken by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to fully implement the Secure Communities program in New York,” Mr. Thompson wrote. “Studies show that this program does little to protect our neighborhoods. Instead, it drives many hard-working immigrants into the shadows of our society, thus actually compromising public safety.”

Secure Communities was started in 2008, but states were not required to participate in the program. Last year, ICE officials canceled agreements they signed with the states and announced plans to make Secure Communities nationwide by next year. Opponents of the program, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino argue that Secure Communities results in the deportation of immigrants arrested for minor offenses, raises concerns about racial profiling and damages the relationship between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.

“The decision by ICE to move beyond a pilot program suffers the fatal defect of casting an overly broad dragnet which threatens to arrest, detain, and deport far too many individuals who pose no threat and are in fact working and contributing to our city and state,” Mr. Thompson wrote. “As you know well, New York is extremely proud of its diverse population and draws great strength from the important contributions of all of our immigrants and new arrivals.”

Read the full text of Mr. Thompson’s letter below:

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to ask you to respect the objections of New York State leaders and reverse the position taken by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to fully implement the Secure Communities program in New York.

New Yorkers like me believe in strong and safe communities, and anyone who has committed a violent crime and is a threat to the public does not deserve the privilege of living in our great nation. However, studies show that this program does little to protect our neighborhoods. Instead, it drives many hard-working immigrants into the shadows of our society, thus actually compromising public safety. Given this track record, I strongly believe that New York has acted prudently in declining to participate in this costly and un-American program.

The decision by ICE to move beyond a pilot program suffers the fatal defect of casting an overly broad dragnet which threatens to arrest, detain, and deport far too many individuals who pose no threat and are in fact working and contributing to our city and state. As you know well, New York is extremely proud of its diverse population and draws great strength from the important contributions of all of our immigrants and new arrivals.

With little oversight from Congress and an ever-increasing budget, Secure Communities accomplishes the exact opposite of what it was intended to do, does not serve our interests, and does not reflect the values we share as Americans.

I urge you, Mr. President, to listen to the concerns of many leaders and elected officials of the Empire State, and personally order ICE to desist implementation of this misguided social experiment.

Very truly yours,
William C. Thompson, Jr.

More Double Punishment for Immigrants with Convictions (Op-Ed)

More Double Punishment for Immigrants with Convictions
New America Media, Commentary, Michelle Fei, Posted: Aug 30, 2011

The Obama administration’s Aug. 18 announcement of a new policy that purports to suspend deportations against immigrants without criminal convictions has sprouted a range of reactions from immigrant rights advocates, from full-fledged celebration to wary suspicion.

I can appreciate why some advocates are praising the announcement. First, it does seem true that the national outcry over the failure of immigration reform and the expansion of the deportation program known as “Secure Communities” – which requires police to share fingerprint data of all arrestees with federal immigration authorities — has prompted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to respond with this “new” policy. It’s worth noting, however, that advocates have long sought to get ICE to actually exercise the discretionary powers it has always held. Second, fewer deportations is certainly a good thing. To the extent that this announcement can actually help the small percentage of people who could qualify for a temporary reprieve from deportation, I share the temporary sense of relief of these immigrants. No family should know the devastation of deportation.

But as a lead organizer of the coalition that got New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pull the state out of the Secure Communities program, I also have seen how much ICE employs divide-and-conquer tactics, engages in manipulative practices and flip-flops back and forth without ever acknowledging its previous position. A federal judge overseeing a public records lawsuit against ICE recently chided the agency for going “out of [its] way to mislead the public” about whether counties and states could opt out of the program; ICE itself has copped to having “a messaging problem.”

So I remain highly skeptical about the potential of this announcement. ICE’s failure to revise its removal quotas – 404,000 this year alone – can only mean that its deportation dragnet will remain just as active. How else can ICE and its private prison industry bedfellows keep detention centers filled?

Call me a cynic, but this move also seems more of a token of appeasement to win votes in the 2012 election than any meaningful shot at reform. Having failed to push through legislation that would allow for the legalization of undocumented youth – much less any other attempt at immigration reform – the administration is terrified of losing the support of Latinos and other groups. Perhaps by throwing a bone to important voting blocs, Obama thinks nobody will notice that ICE has so far kept silent about how this “policy” will be implemented. So far, none of us know how immigrants are supposed to now qualify for work permits or how ICE will conduct case reviews. Even more alarming, many immigrants now mistakenly think they can now get a green card by turning themselves in.

Finally, this announcement just isn’t what many of us have asked for. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. In New York, our coalition has vociferously called for the protection of all immigrants, not just those who can be deemed innocent or low priority. That’s why we continue to firmly object to the targeting of people with criminal convictions.

This position might fly in the face of conventional wisdom about who should and should not be deported. But we cannot accept that people with criminal convictions should be so easily tossed out of our country. They’ve already paid their dues in a criminal justice system that seldomly lives up to its promise of fairness and equality – particularly for those from low-income, ethnic, and immigrant communities.

They don’t deserve a harsh second punishment of permanent exile, particularly through a patently broken and unjust regime that often makes deportation a mandatory minimum and fails to afford immigrants a fair day in court.

Perhaps most importantly, people with criminal convictions still belong with their families and communities, no matter what.

Take, as just one example, a friend of mine who requested that his name not be used. In the fallout of last week’s announcement, he was detained on Monday and put on a plane to Guyana the next night. A long-time green card holder, he served as the primary caretaker for his mother, who has severe diabetes and who requires constant care. His entire family – all U.S. citizens – lives here in this country. He knows no life in Guyana.

But he has an armed robbery conviction from about 15 years ago. And so he was ICE’s first priority for deportation.

I’m pretty certain that, given its announcement, ICE felt that it had even less reason to listen to pleas to stop my friend’s deportation. In the weeks and months and years to come, more and more people like him will get thrown into the deportation machinery, as few object to – and many applaud – ICE’s new policy rather than question why our country so quickly resorts to deporting immigrants who make the same mistakes we all do.

That so many seem to regard the deportation of people with convictions as a desired goal angers and saddens me. But there are those of us who care about all people dealing with deportation, including those with criminal convictions. We care about them proudly and profoundly. And targeting people with convictions for deportation is something we can never be OK with.

For now, our only solace is to commit to continuing to fight hard alongside them and their families for a better future for us all.

Michelle Fei is co-director of the Immigrant Defense Project and member of the New York State Working Group Against Deportation. IMMIGRATION MATTERS features the views of immigration advocates and experts.

Resistance Grows (NYT)

Editorial
Resistance Grows
Published: June 7, 2011

Add Massachusetts to the groundswell of states and localities opposing President Obama’s misconceived and failing immigration dragnet.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Monday that his state would not participate in Secure Communities, the fingerprint-sharing program that the Obama administration wants to impose nationwide by 2013. Gov. Andrew Cuomo halted New York’s involvement last week. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois rejected it last month. They join a long list of elected officials, Congress members and law-enforcement professionals who want nothing to do with the program for the simple reason that it does more harm than good.

The program sends the fingerprints of every person booked by state or local police to federal databases to be checked for immigration violations. It was supposed to focus on dangerous felons. But it catches mostly noncriminals and minor offenders, as New York said, “compromising public safety by deterring witnesses to crime and others from working with law enforcement.”

For years Mr. Obama, like George W. Bush before him, has relentlessly pushed forward with immigration enforcement schemes while failing to give any relief to millions desperate to shed their illegal status.

Real reform requires a comprehensive strategy: stricter enforcement plus legalization for the millions whom it would be foolish to uproot from our society and economy. As Mr. Obama has driven deportations to record levels, he has gotten no closer to fixing a failed system. But he has made Republican hard-liners happy by bolstering the noxious argument that all undocumented immigrants are mere criminals, deportees-in-waiting.

This is a failure of decency and good sense. It merely punishes and does nothing to actually come to grips with the problem of illegal immigration. Resistance has mostly been heard at the ground level, from immigrants and advocates who say families are being split apart, workers frightened and exploited, the American dream dishonored. So it’s good to hear powerful Democrats — Mr. Obama’s friends and allies from large states — telling him that with Secure Communities he has gone way overboard.

What these states’ actions mean, practically speaking, is unclear. States like New York signed contracts with the Department of Homeland Security to enter Secure Communities, and now the administration insists that they must participate. If they send suspects’ fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for criminal checks — as states must and will continue to do routinely — then the F.B.I. will share that data with the Department of Homeland Security. There is no way to opt out.

We’ll see about that. The idea that the federal government can commandeer states’ resources for its enforcement schemes seems ripe for legal challenge. And it’s wrong to make state and local police departments the gatekeepers of immigration enforcement. It should not be up to local cops to drive federal policy by deciding which neighborhoods and people are the focus of their crackdowns.

We welcome the votes of no-confidence in Secure Communities. The message is clear and growing louder: Mr. Obama and the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, need to try something else. That something else is real immigration reform that combines a path to legality with necessary measures to secure our borders and deport real criminals who are here illegally.

Former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau Applauds Governor Cuomo’s Suspension of the Flawed Secure Communities Program (PR)

Former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau Applauds Governor Cuomo’s Suspension of the Flawed Secure Communities Program

For immediate release: June 1, 2011
Contact: (212) 403-1223

I strongly support Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s courageous decision to suspend New York’s participation in Secure Communities pending a review of the program.  I have long been concerned about the issues that arise when local police indiscriminately share information with federal immigration authorities. Specifically, cooperation with federal immigration officials creates a lack of trust in law enforcement among the public. This makes it hard for police and prosecutors to do their jobs because immigrants become reluctant to report crimes or cooperate with investigations. That is why, during the 35 years I was district attorney in Manhattan, my policy was to never share the names of individuals involved with the criminal justice system to immigration authorities until after they were convicted of a serious crime. Programs like Secure Communities, which require automatic immigration database checks for people arrested by local police upon booking, magnify the problems I tried so hard to avoid.

About a year ago, I drafted an editorial in the Wall Street Journal calling for a more nuanced approach to the cooperation between local authorities and federal immigration officials. I am now encouraged that the Governor and other elected officials around the country share my concerns and are taking a critical look at overbroad state and local immigration enforcement cooperation programs like Secure Communities.

New York state law enforcement officials have no obligation to spend time and resources, and endanger their critical mission of keeping our communities safe, to enforce federal immigration law. The Governor’s decision to suspend New York’s participation in the Secure Communities program is an important step toward separating the roles of local police and federal immigration authorities in the eyes of the public, and also protecting New Yorkers from suffering often cruel and unfair treatment in the federal immigration system.

Cuomo Ends State’s Role in Checking Immigrants

Cuomo Ends State’s Role in Checking Immigrants
By KIRK SEMPLE
Published: June 1, 2011

Photo by Marcus Yam for The New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Wednesday that he was suspending New York’s participation in a federal immigration enforcement plan that has drawn fire from immigrant advocates, civil liberties lawyers and elected officials in the state and around the country.

A statement from Mr. Cuomo’s office said there was “mounting evidence” that the program, called Secure Communities, had not only failed to meet its goal of deporting the most serious immigrant criminals but was also undermining law enforcement and compromising public safety.

“There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,” Mr. Cuomo said. Unless those concerns are eased, the statement said, New York will not take part.

Mr. Cuomo’s decision makes New York the second state to announce its intention to withdraw from the program, and sets up a confrontation with the Obama administration, which has made Secure Communities a cornerstone of immigration enforcement strategy. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois said in May that he was canceling his state’s participation.

Under the program, begun by the Bush administration in 2008, the fingerprints of everyone booked into a local or county jail are sent to the Department of Homeland Security and compared with prints in its files. If officials find that a suspect is in the country illegally, or is a noncitizen with a criminal record, they may seek to deport the person.

By Wednesday, that fingerprint sharing had been introduced in about 41 percent of the nation’s jurisdictions, including 27 of 62 counties in New York. Mr. Cuomo’s move means that those counties’ participation will end. The entire country is scheduled to join the program by 2013.

The practical effects of Mr. Cuomo’s decision are unclear. New York law enforcement agencies regularly check fingerprints with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Homeland Security officials said that regardless of New York’s participation in Secure Communities, the F.B.I. would still share fingerprints with the immigration agency.

Federal officials said that if states did not share fingerprints with the F.B.I., those states would lose access to federal criminal databases, undermining their ability to fight crime.

While Secure Communities has contributed to a sharp rise in deportations under President Obama, it does not appear to have won him many allies. It has angered immigrants who supported Democrats in recent elections. It has also failed to convince many of the president’s Republican opponents that he is sufficiently committed to enforcement.

Opponents of the program contend that even though it was mainly intended to ensnare convicted criminals and people deemed a security threat, it has instead caught too many immigrants charged with low-level crimes or guilty only of being in the country illegally. This pattern, the opponents argue, has driven immigrants deeper into the shadows and deterred them from helping officials fight crime.

In addition, critics have assailed the rollout of Secure Communities, which has been plagued by seemingly contradictory statements about how it works and whether local and state participation is voluntary.

Mylan L. Denerstein, counsel to Mr. Cuomo, cited these concerns in a letter on Wednesday.

“Until the numerous questions and controversies regarding the program can be resolved, we have determined that New York is best served by relying on existing tools to ensure the safety of its residents, especially given our overriding concern that the current mechanism is actually undermining law enforcement,” Ms. Denerstein wrote to John Sandweg, counsel to Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary.

Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of Homeland Security that oversees Secure Communities, said it was reviewing the program to make sure it focused on criminals.

Immigrant advocates praised Mr. Cuomo. “It is clear the tide is turning” against Secure Communities, said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Los Angeles. “It’s high time for the president to terminate the program before any further damage is done to our communities.”