Melissa introduced a piece of legislation and a resolution in the City Council today that focus on critical issues in our criminal justice system: the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our city’s jails and the rampant arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Restricting the City’s Collaboration with ICE
Melissa speaks at press conference announcing the introduction of this legislation (Photo by William Alatriste).
The historic piece of legislation introduced by Melissa today, along with Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Danny Dromm, will place limits on New York City’s ability to collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our city’s jails. Thousands of immigrants are deported each year after being sent to our local jails. The Department of Corrections routinely shares databases of new inmates with ICE, which include information on country of origin. Armed with this information, ICE places “detainers” on those inmates they suspect to be non-citizens. After an interview and further investigation, if an immigrant is determined to be “deportable,” he or she is sent to a detention center and is often removed from the country. Over the last two years, only about half of the detainers issued were for immigrants that had no criminal convictions, and 38% of those individuals had a misdemeanor as their highest immediate charge.
This legislation would prohibit the use of City resources (including space, personnel and funds) to honor detainers on those immigrants that have no criminal records, outstanding warrants or previous orders of deportation, do not have a pending criminal case and have not been identified as a confirmed match in the terrorist screening database. Under this legislation, City resources could not be used to hold an individual who meets this criteria beyond the time when he or she would otherwise be released, nor could the City notify ICE of his or her release from custody. We expect to have a hearing on this bill in the fall.
Calling for Changes to State Law on Marijuana Arrests
Tens of thousands of people, primarily from Black and Latino communities, are arrested each year for small-time marijuana possession, even though it was de-criminalized by the State in the 1970s. However, a loophole allows police to make arrests for marijuana possession if it is in public view. Police often ask individuals to take out what would otherwise have been concealed marijuana, leading to an arrest. For the 50,000 plus arrests last year, the estimated cost to taxpayers was over $75 million. This year, the city is on target to reach nearly 60,000 arrests.
Since the City Council does not have the power to legislate, Melissa has introduced a resolution calling on the State Legislature to enact a bill already introduced by Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Jeffries that would close the loophole on marijuana arrest policy.