2003-09-24 / Front Page

Mayor Broadens Immigrant Privacy Rules Sought By Monserrate

by john toscano

Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed an executive order last week said to be the most comprehensive privacy policy in the history of New York City, assuring all law-abiding citizens and immigrants that the confidential information they give to the city will not be disclosed unless required by law.

Executive Order 41, he stated, is a far-reaching citywide privacy policy that protects not only information regarding immigration status, but also other confidential information, such as sexual orientation, status as a sexual assault victim or victim of domestic violence or income tax records.

The mayor explained that not only does the order strengthen and clarify his previous Executive Order 34, a "don’t ask" policy regarding immigration status, it also adds a "don’t tell" policy for a whole host of confidential information, including immigration status.

But it was the short comings of Executive Order 34 that in reality paved the way for the new "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, and Councilmember Hiram Monserrate’s stubborn opposition to the original order that led to the revised, new order through negotiations between the Corona lawmaker and the Bloomberg mayoral administration.

At the signing of the new order at City Hall last Wednesday, the mayor acknowledged that Monserrate’s input was "invaluable in the preparation of this order."

Invited to speak, Monserrate declared, "After months of negotiations, I am proud to announce the necessary revisions in Executive Order 34 that will protect all New Yorkers." But, he added, "In a city that is 40 percent foreign-born, it is essential that these communities do not fear to access the very city services meant to keep us safe and healthy."

Monserrate’s statement said that Executive Order 34 "dangerously eroded immigrants’ ability to access city services for fear of their status being revealed to federal authorities."

The new policy embodied in Executive Order 41, he said, "would replace the ‘don’t ask’ policy regarding immigration status with a comprehensive ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy protecting confidential information and immigration status at all city agencies."

Specifically, Monserrate, a former police officer now leader of the Council Black and Hispanic Caucus said that, the ‘don’t tell’ policy will prohibit city agencies from sharing confidential information that is discovered or required by an agency (with the federal government).

Monserrate included these provisions and protections in his "Access Without Fear" bill, which served as the foundation for his negotiations with the administration. Recently, he announced that Council Speaker Gifford Miller supported the bill and it had a "veto-proof" majority, enough votes to override a mayoral veto.

In his announcement, the mayor stated: "Historically, the city’s commitment to our immigrant residents has meant more than just words. It has also meant services. Perhaps more than any other city in this country, New York has a proven track record of offering its services to everyone, regardless of where they were born. And the reason is simple: what’s good for the city’s immigrants is good for the city."

He noted that when the parents of an immigrant child forego vaccination for fear of being reported to the federal immigration authorities, "We all lose." He explained, "Tuberculosis and other contagious diseases do not discriminate based on national origin. They infect all children equally."

He also cited the dangers of immigrants being afraid to report crimes for fear of repercussions. He said: "Likewise, we all suffer when an immigrant is afraid to tell police that she has been the victim of a sexual assault or domestic violence. As good as they are, our police officers cannot stop a criminal when they are not aware of his crimes, which leaves him free to do it again to anyone he chooses, which means that all of us lose."

There are exceptions to the "don’t tell" part of the policy. A common sense exception to that rule, for example, is when disclosure is required by law, or when it is necessary for the city to do its job.

The mayor added: "The promise of confidentiality is not for everyone, only for those who abide by the law. It offers no protection for terrorists and violent criminals who seek to avoid responsibility for their crimes. Nor is it a shield for law-breakers to hide behind."

Last May, the mayor had signed an executive order restoring protections originally instituted by Mayor Edward I. Koch. However, these protections were then effectively gutted by federal legislation passed in 1996 and a subsequent decision by a federal court.

"For the first time in this city’s history, Executive Order 34 established a ‘don’t ask’ policy that prohibited city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status in all but the most limited circumstances," the mayor said. "And, for the first time since 1996, immigrant New Yorkers had the benefit of formal legal protection on the books."

However, this was not enough for immigrant activists, such as Monserrate and Miller, who, the mayor said, "rightly asked if we could go even further—if we could offer even greater protection to immigrants seeking essential services from the city. Today, it is my pleasure to tell you that the answer is yes."

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