City Limits Cooperation With Federal Immigration Officials at Rikers

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a new bill into law Tuesday that limits the city’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities on Rikers Island.

The law will prevent the Department of Corrections from turning over immigrants with no criminal convictions upon their release, who are not known gang members or who are not on the terror watch list to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said it was an historic day for the city and immigrant communities in New York. "We are sending a strong and unified message that this city will no longer allow innocent immigrants who pose no threat to be unfairly detained and deported due to an antiquated immigration system," she said in a joint statement with council members Daniel Dromm and Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Bloomberg initially endorsed cooperation with ICE at Rikers, but later this year came out in support of the bill.

Information about prisoners at Rikers is shared with federal immigration authorities under an initiative known as the Criminal Alien Program. Agents from ICE, who are stationed at Rikers, can interview foreign-born inmates and decide whether they want to place the inmate on an immigration hold or detainer.

If a detainer is lodged against an inmate, the DOC will hold him for an extra 48 hours at Rikers after his case is closed to give ICE an opportunity to assume custody of the individual.

“Under the new legislation, if an inmate gets an ICE detainer but has no record of criminal history or pending cases, and no other record of being a threat to the community,  the Department of Correction will not honor the detainer,” said Sharman Stein, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information at the DOC.

The Criminal Alien Program, ICE argues, allows them to target an illegal alien with a criminal record and prevent them from being released into the general public and potentially committing other crimes.

But immigration advocates and some politicians have argued the city works too closely with ICE and that many individuals with no prior criminal record end up being deported.

According to the bill, in 2009, the DOC identified 12,710 foreign born inmates, and ICE placed detainers on 3,506 of them. While 22 percent had felony records, more than 50 percent had no prior convictions.

Councilman Peter Vallone, chairman of the public safety committee, who voted against the bill, urged the mayor to “return to his original stance and not support this dangerous legislation.”

“This will make our communities less safe,” Vallone said in a statement released on Tuesday.