On the same day President Barack Obama announced that he would overhaul the nation’s immigration enforcement system – protecting upwards of five million unauthorized immigrants from deportation – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio acted on the local level.
At a press conference held Nov. 14 on the steps of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Corona – a parish with one of the largest immigrant communities in the entire city – Mayor de Blasio signed into law introductions 486-A and 487-A, limiting New York City’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement practices, except in instances where there are public safety concerns.
“Mass deportation has not only pulled apart thousands of New York City families, it has also undermined public safety in our communities and imposed disproportionate penalties on immigrant parents and spouses who these families depend on for emotional and financial support,” the mayor said. “Today we take a step to actually align our city to who we are, to get our laws to align to our values, to our nature as New Yorkers, to have our laws respect our people in a way that they haven’t before.
“Today, we send another message to Washington that the time to act has come to provide relief to so many individuals who contribute to our nation’s growth.”
The two bills end the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Rikers Island and all city facilities. ICE detainers are requests for local law enforcement agencies to continue to hold an individual after his/her case has been resolved – including if the charges they face have been dropped or dismissed, or when they are released on their own recognizance or on bail while their case remains pending – to facilitate pick up and detention by federal immigration authorities.
Under the new laws, the city will only honor detainer requests if they are accompanied by a judicial warrant and the person in question is convicted of a violent or serious crime or matches the terrorist database.
The mayor’s office estimates that with the judicial warrant requirement, the new policy could bring the percentage of detainers to virtually zero and would prevent 2,000 to 3,000 New Yorkers per year from being held in city custody for the purpose of helping federal immigration officials place them in detention and deportation proceedings.
Mayor de Blasio also said the legislation is an attempt to strengthen the city by fostering community trust in law enforcement, allowing police officers to focus on public safety, keeping families together and protecting New Yorkers who have ties to the city – those who are working, raising their families and contributing to the community.
“Immigrants come to this country to make a better life for themselves and their families; this is clearly the case,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in a written statement. He could not attend the press conference since he was en route to a meeting of the pope’s Council of Immigration and Refugee Affairs in Rome. “If immigrants feel welcome, if they feel strong, they will accomplish this goal and make our great nation stronger. As Americans, we must understand that the idea of ‘welcoming’ is so important.”
Msgr. Ronald Marino, vicar for migrant and ethnic apostolates, represented Bishop DiMarzio and spoke about how the Catholic Church has a long history of advocating for the rights of immigrants and keeping families together.
“People from all over the world come to this country to find a better life for themselves,” he said. “Once they do, why would we want to take that away from them? Those that have chosen to make New York City their home deserve to be protected. Passing these bills helps strengthen families, and strengthening families helps strengthen our country.”
Msgr. Marino said he was initially surprised when Mayor de Blasio chose to sign the bills on the steps of a church, but he soon realized that it was perfectly fitting.
“This (church) is where people come first to speak about what’s hurting them and what they need,” he said. “Even before speaking to agencies, they come to church first. The church is like a mother to them, and they trust the church.”
Father William Hoppe, pastor of St. Leo Church, Corona, said he was happy with the new legislation.
“We have a saying in most of the parishes that when it comes to our people, all we’re interested in is their baptism certificates,” he said. “We don’t ask for their immigration status. We’re here to serve people, so that’s our priority.”