Immigrants Cheer Bill to Make NY a Sanctuary State

Assemblymember Francisco Moya (center) presents the legislative package in Albany, with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also at the podium. (Photo by Ana B. Nieto via El Diario)

Chants of “Sí se puede” – “Yes we can” – resounded on the stairs of the state legislature in Albany on Monday, as Democratic Assemblymember Francisco Moya introduced a battery of proposals to designate New York a “sanctuary state” to make immigrants feel safe.

All this is happening at the local level at a time when President Donald Trump is railing against the judicial system for blocking the implementation of his executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations and refugees from entering the United States. In addition, the president insists on building a wall on the Mexico-U.S. border and threatens to eliminate federal funding for sanctuary cites like New York.

One of the measures the assembly voted on Monday was the progress of DACA. This is the fifth time that this law has been introduced. So far, it has been met by resistance from the state senate, which has a Republican majority.

Sen. José Peralta has sponsored the measure in the senate, and Moya believes that the time has come for the chamber to support immigrant students. “We are talking about $25 million. It’s not a relevant amount in a budget of over-$140 billion like the one assigned to New York state,” said the assembly member.

“I believe that this is the moment for Republicans and Democrats to do the right thing for the most vulnerable community,” he added.

New York State Liberty Act

For this reason, in addition to this piece of legislation – which would allow students benefiting from the Dream Act to apply for state grants for college – Moya put the New York State Liberty Act on the table.

The measure seeks to reassure the immigrant population that it can trust the state government. The proposed law would establish that no one may be asked for their immigration status unnecessarily when they apply for local services, benefits or any other assistance anywhere in the state.

The proposal also establishes that law enforcement agents may not stop an individual and search or arrest them based on a perception regarding the person’s possible immigration status or a suspicion that he or she may have violated federal immigration law.

Moya wants to make sure that law enforcement agencies will not look into the immigration status of anyone seeking assistance in cases of domestic violence or any other crime, or if they have witnessed any of these.

Moya believes that it is a critical moment at the federal level due to the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of Washington, and he has found support in some communities where the message has sparked fear among people born in other countries. “The police do not want immigrants to be afraid when they report domestic violence,” said the legislator, surrounded by his fellow assembly members and Speaker Carl Heastie, and by immigrant groups from different countries.

(…) The New York State Liberty Act would require the authorities to safeguard and protect personal information belonging to immigrants (unless release is required by a federal law), ensure legal representation for people with a deportation order, and limit the use of state and local services to carry out federal immigration actions.

The proposal, which has yet to find a sponsor in the state senate to obtain approval in that chamber, prevents any resources from being used to assist the federal government in case they decide to create a data bank or registry based on race, color, religion, nationality and sexual orientation.

Additionally, it reduces the maximum penalty for minor offenses from 365 days to 364, preventing this type of sentence from potentially causing the person to be deported for committing such violations. Right now, an individual automatically enters a deportation process if they are sentenced to at least 365 days.

If the law is approved, immigrants who gave their personal information when they applied for the NYC municipal ID will be able to breathe a sigh of relief, as the protection implicitly covers this data. The mayor of the Big Apple is currently fighting in court to protect the information.

“The threatening anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim rhetoric has put us on alert, but we will continue to fight and will not let our guard down,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo.

A pluralistic and hopeful resistance

Latinos were not the only ones to applaud the measures introduced in Albany on Monday. Immigrants and DACA beneficiaries from other communities joined organizations Make the Road NY (MRNY) and the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) to send them their “nagnu nastatium” and “hal soo it da,” that is, “yes we can” in Arabic and Korean.

Jung Rae Jang, a young man of South Korean descent working for the MinKwon Center, explained that, even though he is not afraid, he is aware of the feeling of uncertainty. “We need to be protected because we are all immigrants, and we want to see that protection extended to all communities.”

“The version of the United States that is being presented from the Republican side is not the one we have. A closed United States is not what we see or what we believe in.”

Jang said that there is an increasing number of people affected, and that more people are wondering how they can help counteract what is happening.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also encouraged the immigrants in attendance. “Don’t stay silent. Keep up your presence.”

There are undocumented people and DACA beneficiaries in the Korean community and the greater Asian community, as well as in the Arab community.

Ivy Teng Lei, a staffer and former DREAM fellow at NYIC, lamented the way a narrative that excludes immigrants and anyone different has taken shape after the election. “It is no longer about people being properly documented or not, but about the fact that there are some people who don’t like us,” she said. Teng had the opportunity to talk to a Trump surrogate on the BBC, and said that she has been receiving threats since.

Carlene Pinto, the immigration campaign manager at NYIC, said that the community does not only need protection, but also support, the way California is providing on every front.

“The Dream Act, driver’s licenses, protection to agricultural workers…” are important because some people feel emboldened by Trump to attack immigrants and minorities, said Pinto.

“We know that we have the full support of the assembly [which has a Democratic majority], and we are meeting with members of the senate to also try to obtain a majority.”

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