2003-12-10 / Front Page

Council’s Minority Caucus, Mayor Join Forces

by john toscano

After winning a major battle with the Bloomberg mayoral administration to establish a policy which protects immigrant rights, the City Council and the mayor have now joined forces to defeat a proposed federal law which they say would override the city’s new policy.

Last Wednesday, the City Council Black, Latino & Asian Caucus introduced a resolution denouncing the congressional measure.

"Just months after the city instituted a policy to respect and protect our city’s immigrants, the federal government is trying to force our hand in an effort to criminalize immigration," declared Councilmember Hiram Monserrate (D–Corona), co-chair of the caucus.

But, according to the bill’s sponsor, the measure addresses "the growing criminal alien crisis [in the United States] by allowing the 600,000 state and local law enforcement officials in the field to enforce immigration laws during the course of exercising their regular duties."

The bill in Congress was introduced by Congressmember Charlie Norwood, a Republican from Georgia. He said in a release that if the measure becomes law, it would require federal authorities to take custody of "criminal and illegal aliens" apprehended by state and local law enforcement agencies and transport them to a facility for processing and deportation.

If the federal agency could not take custody of them from the local police force, the locals would be paid by the feds to detain them.

Norwood also stated in one of several news releases sent to the Gazette that if the bill becomes law, local governments could either adopt it or ignore it.

Norwood appears to have come to Bloomberg’s attention in late October when, Norwood says, he was "surprised and disappointed" that the mayor "blacklisted" him.

According to Councilmembers Hiram Monserrate (D–Corona) and Helen Foster (D–Bronx), co-chairs of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, the mayor called on New Yorkers to refuse to donate to Norwood’s re-election campaign.

Norwood said he found the mayor’s maneuver "particularly odd," but unnecessary because "the CLEAR Act (the bill Norwood sponsored) is completely voluntary."

If it becomes law, he said, "Those cities interested in giving their local and state law enforcement officers training access to data, and the resources needed to enforce immigration laws can do so. Those which are more interested in becoming a welcoming center for criminal aliens can go that route."

In an ironic twist, Norwood cited a Queens rape case last December as one of the reasons he introduced his bill. It appears he is describing the vicious rape of a 42-year-old mother of two in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.

Norwood says, "The crime should never have happened because the five males charged with this heinous act were illegally living in the U.S. Even more unbelievably, four of them had a criminal past and had been in the hands of law enforcement authorities, two having actually served jail time."

Norwood says there are 400,000 individuals in the U.S. who have been ordered deported, 80,000 of whom have criminal convictions.

"Today’s broken enforcement system has left our state and local law enforcement community increasingly unclear on whether they hold the jurisdictional power to enforce our federal immigration laws," he states. But his bill "clarifies that our state and local officers have the inherent authority to arrest and detain criminal and illegal aliens during the normal course of their duty."

Meanwhile, the Caucus resolution called on the city to denounce Norwood’s bill, entitled The Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of 2003, or CLEAR Act.

"This legislation is an affront to the most diverse city in the nation," Caucus Co-Chair Foster declared. "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 earlier this year had emphasized this point strongly in tough negotiations with the mayor that led to implementation of the new immigrant policy.

Monserrate had said immigrants would not deal with city agencies, such as the Department of Health, if they were not assured that any information they gave would be turned over to the police and then the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

The lawmaker, a former police officer, insisted to the mayor that Executive Order 41, the so-called "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, should protect immigrants from what he called "the dangerous and chilling effects of police-INS collaboration.

According to the Caucus resolution, Norwood’s bill "would unnecessarily criminalize immigrants for even minor violations of the immigration laws and violate our fundamental right to privacy by placing the names of immigrants in the National Crime Information Center database and sending the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security very detailed information on such immigrants."

The resolution notes that immigrants, who make up nearly 60 percent of the city’s population of 8 million residents," have been increasingly targeted and detained in violation of their liberty and human rights inappropriately since September 11, as the federal government now recklessly and erroneously conflates immigration status with criminality and hostility to the United States."

The Caucus resolution calls for the city to denounce the CLEAR Act.

"This legislation is an affront to the most diverse city in the nation," Foster said. "In a city that is 40 percent foreign born, it is essential that these communities do not fear to access the very services meant to keep us safe and healthy.

"By proposing this legislation, the federal government is threatening to undermine our safety in the pursuit of millions of immigrants rather than terrorists."

Besides Monserrate the Caucus resolution was co-sponsored by Councilmember John Liu (D–Flushing) and several others.

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