NYC Council Speaker Wants Immigrant Safe Space Bill Passed in Albany Special Session

Melissa Mark-Viverito pushed a statewide policy shielding undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Melissa Mark-Viverito speaks on stage at the World AIDS Day 2015: From Vision To Reality on December 1, 2015 in New York City.
Melissa Mark-Viverito speaks on stage at the World AIDS Day 2015: From Vision To Reality on December 1, 2015 in New York City. Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Housing Works)

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Albany leadership to pass legislation that would limit New York’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement during the rumored special session this year to stave off President-elect Donald Trump’s mass deportation plans.

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Mark-Viverito, a native of Puerto Rico, has called on the state to adopt legislation similar to a bill recently introduced in California known as the California Values Act—which has bipartisan support—would establish a statewide policy that recognizes immigrants as “valuable and essential members of the California community” and would limit the state’s participation in federal immigration law enforcement. Cuomo said recently that discussions around having a special session, where lawmakers might vote on everything from a pay raise to ethics reforms to expansion of ride-hailing apps into upstate,  are “on life support” but they are not necessarily off the table.

“We’re hearing rumors about a possible special session,” Mark-Viverito told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer this morning. “I think this would be a great addition to (the) agenda of the special session, to try to do legislation similar to what California has done.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The speaker said the bill, like California’s, would ensure that immigration enforcement does not take place in public schools, courthouses, hospitals or offices where individuals apply for public benefits or seek shelter. And Mark-Viverito called on the state to review confidentiality and information gathering laws, regulations and policies and change them as needed.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya has proposed legislation that would make public college campuses across the state and city sanctuaries to protect students, faculty and staff from Trump’s deportation plans. The president-elect has indicated he hopes to remove at least two million foreign nationals residing within U.S. borders, and possibly abrogate President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order that has shielded undocumented youth from immigration enforcement action.

Mark-Viverito—whose resolution affirming New York City as a sanctuary city for immigrants was recently passed by the City Council—sent a letter on December 18 to Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein and Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, urging them all to support legislation emulating California’s.

The Council speaker said today she has not yet heard from the governor but said that she is “definitely” going to continue to have conversations about it.

“Specifically, New York should not spend funds or resources to assist federal immigration law enforcement,” Mark-Viverito wrote. “New York should not honor detainer requests for immigrants who pose no threat to public safety unless they are accompanied by a judicial warrant.

Just two days ago, Mark-Viverito and New York’s 28 other Democratic electors donated their Electoral College salaries—a total of $435—to the New York Immigration Coalition, a well-known immigrant policy and advocacy organization despite feeling discouraged as they cast their votes for their preferred candidate Hillary Clinton following her bruising loss to Donald Trump last month.

The speaker noted that under her tenure, the City Council has passed legislation significantly reducing the city’s cooperation with immigration enforcement efforts except in the cases of violent offenders, and that it has fully financed programs that offer universal representation to detained immigrants and unaccompanied minors and young mothers with children placed in expedited removal proceedings.

She also noted that the city created IDNYC, a municipal identification card available to all New Yorkers regardless of immigration status and is accepted by the NYPD as valid identification. And she added that the city has an immigrant health initiative, passed legislation keeping U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement off of Rikers Island and the Criminal Justice Reform Act—and has hosted events around the city “to really inform members of our community about their rights.”

She said that she will indicate what her agenda will be for her final year during her February State of the City address but that she’s certain that countering Trump’s proposals targeting immigrants and minorities will be “where my energy will be focused,” also saying that she doubts that comprehensive immigration reform will happen under Trump.

“I will have that presented in February so you can hear all about it at that time,” she said. “But definitely, with what we’re seeing in terms of the incoming administration, there’s gonna be a real focus on making sure that we defend the values that we hold as a city.”

And she weighed in on her ongoing battle with Staten Island Assembly members Nicole Malliotakis and Ronald Castorina over the city’s plan to dump the personal files of applicants to the IDNYC program by year’s end, so as to keep the Trump administration from requisitioning them. A state Supreme Court judge ruled yesterday that the plan should be halted until a full hearing could be summoned in January.

The city will be shifting to a policy that does not involve the retention of cardholders’ personal background documents.

Mark-Viverito called the fact that 7,000 individuals were unable to get IDNYC because their data was inaccurate a testament to the strength of the program’s vetting process.

“I believe that the two individuals, the two Assembly members, are definitely trying to score cheap political points,” she said.

Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.

NYC Council Speaker Wants Immigrant Safe Space Bill Passed in Albany Special Session