The following statement is By Scott M. Stringer, Manhattan Borough President about the City’s immigration crackdown at Rikers Island and the threat it poses to the civil liberties of New Yorkers in all five boroughs.
It is an immigrant nightmare that has become a daily reality at Rikers Island: People who are here legally and have no criminal record are suddenly transferred into federal custody for deportation. Their due process rights are violated and they’re sent to detention centers in far away states, where they’re subject to inhumane conditions. Finally they are sent back to their country of origin, devastating their families in New York and sending waves of anxiety through the entire immigrant community.
Today this is a sad fact of life at Rikers Island. But the worst part of the nightmare is that it doesn’t have to be happening. New York City has been turning people–including many innocent and lawfully present people – over to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency as part of a strictly voluntary collaboration. The controversial Criminal Alien program, as it is known, could be ended tomorrow, and that’s exactly what we’re calling on Mayor Bloomberg to do. New York has no obligation to hand people over at Rikers Island, in clear violation of their rights, and it’s time for our voices to be heard on this outrage.
Under the program, some 3,200 New Yorkers have been funneled into ICE custody each year, then detained and deported. Nearly 50% of these deportees had no prior conviction at the time of their arrest. While the federal government has launched controversial and aggressive efforts to deport immigrants, New York City has no business embracing a misguided and overly broad program that destroys the lives of thousands of law-abiding people. Immigrant communities have been caught up in a vicious cycle of politics, punishment and deportation, and the horror stories are heartbreaking: New York detainees are being detained as far away as Texas and Lousiana, isolated from family and support. These centers have inadequate medical care, and those held in detention are subject to physical and mental abuse. Some 107 people died in immigration detention centers from 2003 to 2010, according to an article in the New York Times.
It’s bad enough that the human rights of these detainees have been violated. But the program is also costing New York tens of millions of dollars that could be better spent at a time of fiscal crisis. Under the Criminal Alien Program, the City must house prisoners at Rikers much longer than it normally would, because New York policy forbids anyone who might be sent into deportation proceedings from being released on bail.
The costs mount and so does the toll on law enforcement. The City’s program deters many in the immigrant community from coming forward and reporting crimes, knowing what the consequences of an arrest can be. As a result, the bonds of trust so necessary to police and the communities they serve are weakened. In addition, databases used by the federal government to identify people for detention have been significantly flawed for years and their process is often too rushed to ensure accurate identification. How can we expect to instill faith in fairness and justice with all communities when the government is so willing to ignore rights and use questionable data to deport people?
The Rikers Island crackdown is similar to Secure Communities, a federal program that has enlisted states in the drive to deport immigrants in custody regardless of their offense. But the crucial distinction is that in New York City there is no mandatory requirement that the Department of Corrections take such action. New York’s activities come amid a heightened national campaign to boost the number of people who are deported every year. Last December, published reports of internal emails from the Department of Homeland Security showed how ICE has been frantically competing with itself to boost numbers, regardless of human consequences.
For all these reasons, the City’s partnership with ICE must end now. New York was built and shaped by immigrants, and we are a greater city as a result of people who come here for a better life from somewhere else, often at much risk to themselves. It’s the last place you would expect to find a program that so undermines immigrant rights and dignity. Indeed, various cities around the country, such as Arlington, VA and Santa Clara, CA have chosen to end this harmful practice. Please join our campaign to end this program in New York City once and for all. Please call my office at 212-669-8300 to pledge your support.