At an emergency town hall on President Donald Trump’s attempted ban on travel from seven majority Muslim nations, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Immigrant Affairs assured members of the faith that the city does not intend to comply with any of the recent White House fiats on immigration.
The emergency community meeting, hosted by the Muslim Community Network, gave residents the opportunity to learn about the current status of Trump’s executive orders and their legal and constitutional implications. Panelists also discussed efforts to mobilize communities and help detainees as well as the abilities and limitations members of Congress have to address the ban.
“We’re going to get into this very soon, I think, with the federal government coming and saying, the federal government’s gonna come and say, ‘We think certain jurisdictions, certain cities, certain states that have certain policies that we don’t like,’ that they don’t like, fall into that category: sanctuary jurisdictions,” Samuel Solomon, deputy director of policy for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said during the town hall at Judson Memorial Church in Lower Manhattan. “And that’s gonna be a fight, right? And that’s a fight that we are prepared to have about what is actually compliance with this law.”
He stressed that de Blasio has been “very, very committed” to ensuring that the city defends the different policies that New York City has put into place. The mayor has said that the city would pursue legal action soon.
“There will, I assure you—much as we’ve seen over the past week at the airports and in the courts—there will be legal challenges as well,” Solomon continued. “So it’s not something that we are prepared to sort of abandon our policies, which is really what the federal government is trying to do—to try to coerce cities and states into abandoning pro-immigrant policies.”
Trump signed two executive orders nearly two weeks ago, one of which calls for the hiring of several thousand new border guards and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, expands deportation priorities to apply to any individual charged with a crime and demands a cut in federal funding for any “sanctuary city”—though the order does not actually define the term.
Solomon noted that Trump’s executive order defines a sanctuary jurisdiction as one that does not comply with a provision of federal law which states that a city cannot prohibit its employees from informing national immigration authorities of an individual’s immigration status.
Among the list of 170 crimes over which the city cooperates with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are rape, endangering the welfare of a child and gang assault—but not for low-level crimes such as possession of a small amount of marijuana or even more serious nonviolent violations such as money laundering. The mayor and Mark-Viverito, however, disagree over whether the list of crimes should be expanded.
Solomon said that the city, attorneys and groups prevented the removal of “hundreds or thousands of people” across the country in just seven days, but stressed that the restraining order recently issued against the ban is temporary. The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs has been meeting with commissioners and staff members across city government.
He pointed out that the city has Action NYC, which connects New Yorkers to free, safe immigration legal help and that in July 2015, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced free attorneys for all undocumented migrant children.
“It’s not our business what their immigration status is, what their visa is, what their passport says, where they’re from, what their religion is,” Solomon said. “So our goal is really to make sure that we’re serving everybody and especially when we see these kinds of threats coming from the outside, whether it’s from the federal government, whether it’s from people who are committing hate crimes.”
Seattle Federal Judge James Robart issued a ruling that temporarily blocked the implementation of Trump’s 90-day ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump subsequently attacked “this so-called judge” on Twitter, and appealed his restraining order even as the Department of Homeland Security moved to abide by the ruling.
Naz Ahmad, a staff attorney with CUNY CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility), said that since last Wednesday—when leaked versions of the executive order came out—there has been uncertainty about how it is going to be applied.
“It leaves you in a state of constant uncertainty, uncertainty about your safety, uncertainty about the safety of your community, of your loved ones,” Ahmad said. “And so the same is true about what other people have said on this panel that people from a range of privileges and backgrounds and statuses are all feeling really uncertain about what they can and cannot do and what’s gonna happen in the future.”
Omar Mohammedi, president and founder of the Association of Muslim American Lawyers, said that he was amazed by the support they received from lawyers—both Muslim and non-Muslim—throughout the country. He said the Trump administration may have realized that it was better to comply with the order.
“I think they thought really hard and they thought, ‘This is going to be a major crisis therefore it’s better to just let it go, and let’s fight it in court,’ and I think that’s really what they chose,” Mohammedi said. “And I think they chose the right path because this could have been a major disaster between judiciary and the executive.”
The panelists also stressed the importance of individuals sharing their personal stories with the media and elected officials, flooding elected officials with phone calls and documenting every single incident of bias they experience.
They also highlighted the need for legislation to counter Trump’s executive orders and asked attendees to donate to organizations that are helping people through the ordeal, citing examples such as people who collect money for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students who might lose financial aid and refugee assistance organizations.
Last week, Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng introduced the “No Funds for Unconstitutional Executive Orders” Act, which would prohibit any funds made available by Congress from being used to enforce Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who held an emergency meeting last week, is among the bill’s co-sponsors.