Embracing the ‘Immigration Hardship Plea Policy’

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Council member Rory Lancman and retired judge Gregory Lasak all say they support an immigration hardship plea policy. (Photos: by David Brand via Queens Daily Eagle; courtesy office of Rory Lancman; by Andy Katz via Queens Daily Eagle)

In the current anti-immigrant environment, noncitizens are at risk of deportation even for low-level offenses such as driving while impaired or possession of small amounts of marijuana. Now the candidates for Queens district attorney, taking a cue from similar stances elsewhere, are saying that they will support an immigration hardship plea policy “that would direct prosecutors to consider how various charges could impact a noncitizen defendant’s immigration status,” writes David Brand in Queens Daily Eagle.

Borough President Melinda Katz, Council member Rory Lancman and retired Judge Gregory Lasak each told the Eagle that, if elected, they would direct assistant district attorneys to consider alternate charges that carry a similar penalty but have fewer repercussions for noncitizen defendants.

Immigration advocates have long called on prosecutors to use discretion when charging noncitizens — especially amid an immigration crackdown by the Donald Trump administration

“The immigration hardship plea policy is the minimum that any DA candidate running in a city like New York, and Queens specifically, needs to have,” said Murad Awawdeh, political director for the New York State Immigrant Action Fund. “It’s unconscionable for any candidate not to have an immigration hardship plea policy.”

In Brooklyn, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has considered charges against noncitizens on a case by case basis since 2017.

Rory Lancman, who entered the Queens DA race in September, pledged to adopt an immigration hardship plea policy, and retired Judge Gregory Lasak said he too would pursue such a policy. Borough president Melinda Katz, who announced her candidacy for Queens DA last week, told Queens Daily Eagle that she would as well.

“In many cases, when deportation is the end result of a conviction or plea bargain, the punishment simply does not fit the crime,” Katz said. “Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can be a devastating … I will seek immigrant-neutral pleas when compatible with public safety to prevent those collateral consequences and review cases that were adjudicated before I took office and are now causing immigrant consequences. It is imperative that our DA delivers fair justice for all.”

Brand earlier this year wrote an article for Documented that described the process of evaluating lesser charges for noncitizens.

Defense attorney Ali Najmi told Documented about a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipient who was arrested for driving  while intoxicated (DWI), but was offered a plea deal for Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI), a violation. Najmi said he argued for a reckless driving charge, which carries a worse punishment than DWAI because it gives offenders a record but does not lead to suspension of DACA. The DA’s office initially refused, he said.

After several meetings with the Queens DA, the office offered a plea deal for reckless driving, but only if the defendant agreed to spend time at Rikers.

Go to Queens Daily Eagle to read why Najmi says it’s important that prosecutors, when considering how to charge noncitizens, not hew to the view that they treat all defendants the same way.

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