Op-Ed | Law enforcement must earn trust to keep the public safe, regardless of immigration status

A shooting in Williamsburg that killed one man and injured another on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 was gang-related, a law enforcement source said.

All members of our communities deserve to be safe, regardless of immigration status. To keep our communities safe, state and local law enforcement must earn the community’s trust.

Lack of trust between communities and law enforcement is a complex issue, but in predominantly immigrant communities one thing is clear: victims of crime and witnesses to crime who are undocumented or living in mixed-status household must be free to report to state and local law enforcement without fear of detention and deportation. Anything less undermines community safety.

New York City has long recognized this principle. In 1989, Mayor Ed Koch issued an executive order barring city workers, including police officers, from asking about or sharing information about people’s immigration status. The law has evolved since then, but New York City continues to stringently limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. The Manhattan DA’s Office similarly does not to cooperate with ICE in all but the most extreme circumstances. The rest of New York State, however, is a different story.

In 56 counties across the state, local law enforcement, from police on the beat to sheriffs running jails, are free to funnel undocumented immigrants into ICE custody. And ICE is all too eager to capitalize. For farmworker and Western New York resident Patty, all it took was a routine traffic stop to break up her family and rip the father of her five-year-old son away forever.  The loss not only impacted the emotional life of their child, but also the financial health of her family. Overnight, Patty became a single parent and the sole breadwinner for her family.  

This must change. As Manhattan District Attorney and as Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, we strongly support the New York For All Act, a bill in the State Legislature that will prohibit state and local officers from enforcing federal immigration laws, feeding people into ICE custody, and sharing sensitive information with federal immigration authorities.

The New York For All Act will not only protect the immigrant New Yorkers – our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors – it will make all New Yorkers safer. A recent report by the Center for American Progress found that crime is lower by statistically significantly margins in counties with policies limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration authorities (known as sanctuary policies) compared to counties with no such limits. It also concluded that when counties protect all their residents, regardless of immigration status, they experience notable economic gains.

For immigrant New Yorkers, the threat of separation from family, losing the lives they have built in our state, often over decades, and facing harsh detention conditions was terrifying before the pandemic. The well-documented risk of COVID-19 infection in congregate settings like immigration detention centers only increases the incentive for immigrants to avoid any activity that could put them on ICE’s radar. A women who is being abused by her partner, or a delivery driver who is robbed of his meager earnings, or a grandmother who witnesses a shooting on the street shouldn’t have to weigh the risk of detention and deportation before calling 911 to report what they know to the police.  

Public safety is a shared responsibility and a shared benefit when community and law enforcement trust each other enough to work together. It’s time to make it clear, in every corner of our state, that every New Yorker has the right to feel safe reaching out to law enforcement for help, regardless of their immigration status. We call on Governor Kathy Hochul and members of the State Legislature to act with urgency and pass the New York for All Act this year. Our state will be safer and fairer if they do.