NYC immigrant fight talked over in Astoria

Apr 20, 2017
In The News

New York City’s and New York State’s disagreements with the Trump administration’s immigration policies were front and center at PS 234 in Astoria on Tuesday night.

Lawyers with the office of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sat on a panel that included state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn) to discuss where President Trump’s efforts now stand, and what is being done on the state and federal level to protect the rights of immigrants in the city.

Much of the talk centered around the Big Apple’s sanctuary city policy, which includes not providing information to federal officials or honoring detainer requests for anyone but those accused of serious crimes.

The audience of about 40 included mostly representatives of organizations supporting immigrants’ rights.

Gianaris, the son of Greek immigrants, said while the issue is personal to him, Simotas can go a step further.

“My parents moved here when I was about 6 months old,” the assemblywoman said. “They were able to open a business. They were able to succeed because people were willing to help and embrace them ... This community was built by immigrants.”

Lourdes Rosado, the attorney general’s civil rights bureau chief, said the state is among those government entities challenging Trump’s immigration ban. The state of Hawaii has gotten a temporary injunction against the most recent executive order.

“Call it a travel ban, call it an immigration ban, call it a Muslim ban,” Rosado said. “Right now that’s working its way through the courts, so we’re waiting.” But she, Maloney and Gianaris said waiting on those rulings does not mean there is no action taking place.

Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have threatened to cut Justice Department funding for law enforcement to sanctuary cities. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said at a press conference last month that the total amount involved pays for about 600 police officers.

It includes the Edward Byrne grants, named for the NYPD rookie who was murdered by Jamaica drug dealers in 1988.

Rosado and Gianaris said there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires compliance with immigration officials, though it is allowed.

“The Constitution gives [the NYPD] wide discretion,” Rosado said.

“Not only is there nothing that requires us to do their bidding, but we just passed a $160 [state] billion budget,” Gianaris said. “And we added $10 million of immigrant legal services.”

That said, both he and Rosado admitted there also is nothing in the Constitution requiring the federal government to pay Edward Byrne grants or provide any other applicable DOJ funds for cities that do not comply.

Maloney said she has sponsored or co-sponsored a handful of bills designed to counter the administration’s moves. She did not recall which ones have companion bills in the Senate, though she was direct about the chances of the bills passing in the next two years.

“In this Congress, the chances are probably zero,” she said. “But it took me 15 years to pass legislation for 9/11 first responders, and everyone said that was impossible. It was the same with the Credit Card Consumer Bill of Rights. Sometimes you just have to start by doing what you think is right.”

As to helping immigrants in their day-to-day struggles, Simotas said she has written a bill that would make it a felony for someone such as an employer to use someone’s immigration status as leverage to threaten them.

Rosado and Mayur Saxena, the civil enforcement section chief of Schneiderman’s Labor Bureau, said the attorney general has a number of services to protect immigrants from people who would use someone’s immigration status to threaten or defraud them.

The AG’s office has set up a multilingual hotline for immigrants of any status 1 (800) 566-7636.

“We are going to ask you to do something difficult today,” Saxena told the crowd. “Go back to people and tell them we can’t help without their cooperation. We need people who are willing to speak and sign affidavits” alleging illegality toward immigrants. “We don’t care about your immigration status.”