The City Council passed a bill last week that strips city funding for a federal program that detains Rikers Island inmates who are determined to be illegal immigrants, prompting a protest outside City Hall by the Juniper Park Civic Association, which claims the legislation is a threat to public safety.
Under the bill, known as Intro 656, illegal immigrants who are cleared of their crimes or have no felony criminal history will not be referred by the city Department of Correction to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention and deportation.
Correction has an office at Rikers.
Juniper Park took aim at Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) for co-sponsoring the bill, although she was one of 38 Council members to sign on to the legislation.
Intro 656 passed the Council last Thursday by a vote of 43-5.
Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) were the only Queens members of the Council to vote against the legislation.
“The entire civic association is very disappointed and embarrassed that our councilwoman would support such a bill, but to co-sponsor it is even more puzzling,” said Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden in an e-mail.
In an online poll on the civic’s website, 90 percent said they were against Intro 656.
The topic was discussed at the civic’s latest meeting and no one said they were in favor of the bill.
Holden said the civic planned to meet with U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Kew Gardens) to see what can be done on the federal level.
At a meeting of the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together Civic Association Monday night, Crowley pointed out that Intro 656 had the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Crowley said that with the city’s limited resources and poor financial situation, it cannot afford the $30 million Rikers program.
“The city is not supposed to be doing the work of the federal government,” she said.
Proponents of the legislation say it is a step forward for immigrants’ rights while those against it claim the detention policy threatens public safety.
“This bill will absolutely make our communities less safe — 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 main thing that makes immigrant communities cooperate less with the NYPD is irresponsible statements from elected officials. They are well aware that the NYPD is not allowed to share immigration status information with federal authorities. In addition, the president has stated that only the ‘worst of the worst’ will be deported, so it is clear that no innocent victim or witness has any reason to be concerned.”
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who represents a district with a large concentration of immigrants and is chairman of the Council Immigrant Affairs Committee, said the city’s current policy is unfair.
“What they are doing at Rikers is running an alien program rather than a criminal alien program,” Dromm said. “Many innocent immigrants are unfairly being detained and deported because of this broken immigration system. We cannot allow the cooperation between ICE and the DOC to continue tearing families apart and destabilizing immigrant communities that pose no threat to public safety.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz