BY JAMES FARRELL
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to follow through on President Donald Trump’s promise to crack down on “sanctuary cities” such as New York, where law enforcement resists aiding federal immigration authorities. Sessions, in a Monday press conference, announced that any states applying for federal Department of Justice grant money would have to certify that they are not providing sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
In New York City, some fear that the relationship between law enforcement and immigrant communities could be in jeopardy if officers begin aiding federal immigration authorities. Some are concerned that turning local law enforcement into an arm of federal immigration authorities could make immigrant communities less likely to cooperate with police in reporting crimes.
Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group based in Jackson Heights, issued a statement after Sessions’ announcement, saying that the policy would attack “jurisdictions that take affirmative steps to protect immigrants and keep all Americans safer.”
Natalia Aristizabal, co-director of organizing for the group, said that she has seen an uptick in the number of reports of deportation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) procedures since Trump took office. Make the Road has also received several unconfirmed reports regarding ICE’s using intimidation tactics and working in conjunction with local police. She said that this sows distrust in immigrant communities.
“It creates a sense of fear and distance from law enforcement in general, a feeling that you don’t believe that law enforcement will provide you safety,” Aristizabal said. “That’s both sad and dangerous.”
Eugene O’Donnell is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, former NYPD officer and former prosecutor for the Queens district attorney’s office. He sees both sides of the immigration debate, arguing that the United States needs to take a hard look at its immigration policies to ensure public safety, but that Trump’s hardline rhetoric about immigration has spurred partisan debate, which can create fear in immigrant communities. This is problematic in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods like Queens, since police rely on community outreach for tips.
“It’s not helpful to alienate immigrants who are here lawfully or even undocumented, who are not causing problems and certainly not involved in violent crimes,” he said. “But nobody should be promising an undocumented person who comes into the country and commits a heinous crime that they’re going to be shielded.”
During a recent Black History Month event held by the Queens Tribune, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill addressed the debate.
“The NYPD is committed to making this city welcome to all immigrants,” he said. “We don’t ask about immigration status for persons coming to ask for our help. We don’t conduct civil immigration enforcement. We honor requests from the federal government, but only when there’s a significant risk to public safety—for example, people on terrorist watch lists.”
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