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Law bars holding immigrants in jail

Mayor Michael Bloomberg (c.) signs Intro 656, a law designed to protect immigrants with no prior criminal record from being held at Rikers Island by federal immigration authorities. He is joined by immigration advocates and Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (fourth from l.). Photo courtesy Robert Holden
TimesLedger Newspapers

Despite opposition from some corners of Queens, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law last week a bill that requires the city Department of Correction to release immigrants who do not have a prior criminal record but are being detained for federal immigration authorities.

Advocates said the law, Intro 656A, would stop needless and excessive deportations.

“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,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Council members Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) in a statement.

The law, which goes into effect 120 days after its passing, prevents the city agency from holding an individual longer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The law will not apply to individuals who have been convicted of a crime, are defendants in a pending criminal case, have an outstanding warrant, are a known gang member or are a match for the terrorist screening database.

“Advocates on both ends of the political spectrum agree that the Department of Correction’s policy hurts families, hurts communities and impacts law enforcement,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said.

Bloomberg signed the bill Nov. 22 after the Council passed the legislation Nov. 3 by a 43-5 vote. Those not in favor of the bill included Councilmen Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn), Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island) and Minority Leader James Oddo (R-Staten Island). Councilman Lewis Fidler (D-Brooklyn) was absent.

Vallone, head of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, asserted in a statement that the law would make communities less safe. He said since President Barack Obama announced in August that ICE would concentrate on deporting those who had committed crimes or posed a security risk, innocent victims and witnesses do not have anything to worry about.

“It not only puts illegal immigrants who have been charged with another crime back on our streets, but makes no distinction between arrests for violent crimes and other crimes,” Vallone said.

The Middle Village-based Juniper Park Civic Association has also been critical of the measure. The association rallied against it earlier this month and went to Bloomberg’s bill signing ceremony.

While there, civic President Robert Holden said the law would prevent people, like Carlos Salazar Cruz, an undocumented immigrant who brutally killed Chinese immigrant Yu Yao in Flushing, from being deported, according to the civic’s website.

“Carlos Salazar Cruz had no criminal record in the United States — however, we have no idea what his record was in Mexico,” Holden said.

Yet in addition to the Council members and immigrant advocacy groups in favor of the measure, the bill also received federal-level support from U.S. Reps. Charles Rangel (D-Astoria) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).

Gutierrez, an advocate for immigration reform, visited New York City last month to show support for the bill.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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