Critics Question Department of Corrections' Relationship with Federal Immigration Authorities

For twenty years, Federal immigration officials have been stationed on Rikers Island. Critics say the Department of Corrections offers them too much assistance in identifying foreign-born non-citizens, some of whom end up in deportation proceedings. The practice came under fire Wednesday during a City Council hearing. Critics say all too often immigrants who are in detention, but have not been convicted of a crime, are reported to ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Queens Councilmember Julissa Ferreras says the city should show more discretion before sharing inmate information with the federal authorities. She said "if a family member was arrested for having a beer on the street because the situation escalated because of a language barrier and that person gets detained and this leads to a a deportation, I think it's a gross use of power."

Aarti Shahani is a research associate with Justice Strategies, a prison advocacy group. She presented a study that said people who were tagged for deportation hadn't necessarily committed a crime or presented a greater security risk. They just happened to be in jail. "If New York City is graciously allowing a partnership with Homeland Security, they need to start asking questions about the metrics, what's actually being accomplished here," Shahani said, "And I think that's the box that was opened today."

During the hearing, council members asked Department of Corrections Commissioner Dora Schriro whether her agency could refuse immigration officials' requests for information. She said they could not, but immigration advocates disagreed. Prisoners can refuse to meet with immigration officials inside the jail, but that doesn't mean they won't be picked up when they are released.

City Council members want the mayor to clarify how much the Department of Corrections must cooperate with ICE.