New York - few would dispute - is a city of immigrants. That's what makes it so difficult to understand the city's collaboration with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport thousands of innocent people and cruelly divide families. More than 1,000 Latino immigrant workers and students joined Tuesday with clergy and City Council members for a massive march over the Brooklyn Bridge to a rally at City Hall Park.
The demonstrators had a strong message for Mayor Bloomberg: We want the city out of the deportation business. "The mayor has spoken forcefully about how broken our immigration system is and we wanted to ask him to live up to his words," said Andrew Friedman, executive director of Make the Road NY, the organizer of the event. The demonstrators were protesting a new federal program to check the fingerprints of everyone arrested against immigration records. "We wanted to tell the mayor that he has an opportunity to uphold New York City values by refusing to cooperate with this unjust immigration system," said Friedman.
Thousands of New York families are torn apart each year by an enforcement system that denies people a fair hearing, sending the innocent out of state without access to attorneys or their families, Friedman added. The numbers are alarming. According to Make the Road NY, every year the city's Department of Correction transfers between 3,000 and 4,000 New Yorkers to ICE's custody - at considerable expense to the city - even though the city is under no legal obligation to do so.
Most are not criminals or violent felons. They are asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, long-term permanent residents, juveniles, persons seeking protection under the Violence Against Women Act and individuals with no criminal record. These city residents are often sent thousands of miles away to immigration detention centers in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, where they are held in deplorable conditions without adequate access to counsel, medical care, family and evidence necessary to defend themselves against deportation orders.
The demonstrators demanded the Council and the mayor pass new legislation prohibiting the Correction Department from cooperating with ICE unless an individual has been convicted of a violent felony. "It is time for the city to end its subsidy of the broken federal deportation system. As long as the New York City's criminal justice system is the gateway into immigration detention, immigrant victims of crime will suffer in silence, and police investigations will be met with closed doors. The [Correction Department's] current policy makes us all less safe," said Peter Markowitz, professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Immigration Justice Clinic.
"The city must exercise greater discretion in its sharing of information and granting of access to ICE, to avoid the needless separation of families, not to mention the use of city taxpayer dollars in support of our nation's broken immigration enforcement system," said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem).
Ecuadoran immigrant Soledad Villacís, 34, a mother of two children, ages 8 and 3, and a member of Make the Road NY, put it this way: "People think that there are no deportations in New York, but that's not true. Right now there are 3,500 people in Rikers that could be deported," she told the crowd at City Hall Park. "We are here to ask the mayor not to let ICE separate our families, we are here to ask him to get ICE out of Rikers now!"
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