This article was originally published in Spanish on April 16 in El Diario/La Prensa. Translated by Sarah Kate Kramer.
NEW YORK–Immigrant leaders have rejected the city’s response to complaints about the Corrections Department’s cooperation with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In a letter to the editor in the New York Times on April 13, John Feinblatt, the chief political adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said the transfer of immigrants from Rikers Island prison to ICE detention was a matter of public safety, not immigration.
Feinblatt was responding to the April 4 op-ed in the Times written by Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer and Andrew Friedman, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy organization, which criticized the transfer of thousands of immigrants from Rikers to ICE. The letter outlined the flaws in the federal Criminal Alien Program and Secure Communities.
Councilman Daniel Dromm, head of the Immigration Committee, and Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito criticized the city’s response in a subsequent letter, arguing that it “has distorted the facts and has relied on the ugly politics of fear.”
“DOC’s policy does not distinguish between people convicted of serious felonies and those convicted of non-violent misdemeanors. In fact, it does not even distinguish between people who are found innocent and people who are guilty,” reads the letter.
In response to Feinblatt’s letter, Stringer reiterated that thousands of immigrants held in Rikers are transferred to federal custody or deported even if they do not have a criminal record. He added that many are in the U.S. legally and have their right to due process violated by such programs—and that some have even died due to poor conditions in detention centers.
“The idea that we would be ‘jeopardizing the safety of all New Yorkers’ by treating these individuals in accordance with basic due process and humanity is absurd on its face and a contradiction of our country’s promise of equal justice. When government capriciously abuses civil liberties, we all pay a dreadful price,” Stringer said in a statement.
Stringer called on Mayor Bloomberg to immediately stop the programs.
“The fact that his administration continues to misleadingly claim that this policy is motivated by public safety badly misses the point. This policy, in fact, undermines public safety by damaging trust between city government and the 40 percent of New Yorkers who are immigrants,” said Friedman.
The activist said the mayor on the one hand says that immigrants make indispensable cultural and economic contributions to the city, but at the same time his Department of Corrections destroys thousands of immigrant families through these policies.
In a hearing before the City Council last November, Department of Corrections director Dora B. Schriro stated that cooperation between the city and ICE was not mandatory and there was no formal agreement.
The letter signed by council members Mark-Viverito and Dromm added that these policies cost the city tens of millions of dollars annually.