Mayor Eric Adams Says NYC Must ‘Modify’ Sanctuary Laws

New York Mayor Eric Adams speaks during his weekly news conference at City Hall Blue Room on Feb. 5, 2024, in New York. (Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York Daily News/TNS)

NEW YORK (New York Daily News/TNS) — Mayor Eric Adams came out in favor of modifying the city’s sanctuary status laws Tuesday to make it easier for his administration to help federal authorities deport immigrants suspected of crimes — embracing a policy prescription mostly espoused by conservatives amid the local migrant crisis.

The sanctuary laws, which date back to the 1980s, prohibit city government workers and agencies from helping federal immigration authorities with tracking down and detaining immigrants residing in the five boroughs for deportation purposes.

There are exceptions to the sanctuary laws that allow the city to cooperate with the feds in some cases, including if an immigrant has been convicted of a serious or violent crime. Existing laws do not, however, permit the city to cooperate with federal immigration authorities if a foreign national has merely been accused of a crime.

In a Tuesday afternoon press briefing, Adams said the current laws are too lax and that he wants to return to a standard that was in place under former Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Ed Koch. Under that standard, the city could cooperate with federal authorities, including by detaining immigrants on their behalf for deportation purposes, if they were “suspected” — not only convicted — of crimes.

“I want to go back to the standards of the previous mayors who I believe subscribed to my belief that people who are suspected of committing serious crimes in this city should be held accountable,” Adams told reporters at City Hall.

The mayor didn’t say whether he wants to have the ability to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials only in cases involving immigrants suspected of violent crimes, or if he’d like the standard to be broadened to cover suspected criminal wrongdoing of any type. He also didn’t say whether he wants to cooperate with federal authorities seeking to deport only undocumented immigrants, or if he’d like to be able to do that in cases involving immigrants with legal status, too.

A spokesman for the mayor didn’t immediately return a request for clarity on those points after the briefing.

During the briefing, Adams demurred when asked whether he’s concerned his proposed sanctuary law rollback would deprive immigrants of due process.

“They didn’t give due process to the person that they shot or punched or killed,” Adams said. “There’s just a philosophical disagreement here. They can have due process, but we should be communicating with ICE, and if ICE makes the determination of deporting, then they should, so no one’s taking away from anyone’s due process.”

The city’s six largest public defender groups issued a statement blasting the mayor’s proposal to water down sanctuary protections, arguing it flies in the face of “due process and the orderly administration of justice.” Their statement also noted existing laws don’t prevent feds from carrying out immigration enforcement actions; they just bar the city government from using municipal resources to assist such actions.

“These protections aim to ensure that New York City complies with the constitutional requirement of probable cause when working with ICE to detain someone. … Changes to our detainer laws will impact a wide range of people, including people who have recently arrived in New York City to seek asylum, but also long-time residents,” read the statement signed by the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, New York County Defender Services, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and Queens Defenders.

“Instead of attempting to gut these fundamental protections, causing terror among our immigrant neighbors and putting countless New Yorkers in danger of being separated from their families and deported without due process, Mayor Adams should be working to support pending measures to strengthen detainer laws,” the groups’ statement added, referencing legislation introduced in the City Council.

Adams first threw his weight behind altering the laws during a town hall event in Brooklyn on Monday night, breaking his silence on the question. At that event, he didn’t elaborate on how exactly he’d like the laws to be changed, only saying he’d like to “modify” them.

Amid an influx of more than 170,000 mostly Latin American migrants into the city since spring 2022, there have been a handful of crimes involving new arrivals seized on by local conservatives as reasons for why the sanctuary laws should be abolished.

Last month, local Republicans grew especially vocal in pushing for eliminating the sanctuary protections after a group of migrants were caught on surveillance video kicking an NYPD officer outside a Manhattan shelter.

Prior to this week, Adams has mostly responded to questions about where he stands on the city’s sanctuary status by saying it’s an issue for the City Council, whose support would likely be required to tweak the laws.

At Tuesday’s briefing, Adams was much more forthcoming. He pointed to a recent NYPD bust of a Bronx robbery ring allegedly involving migrants while arguing for allowing cooperation with ICE in cases of suspected crimes, not just convicted crimes.

“This person was a menace,” Adams said of the alleged migrant robbery ringleader. “You want to leave him here, have him have two years before he’s actually convicted and continuing to do his criminal behavior? I just philosophically disagree with that. … The mere fact we cannot share with ICE that this person has committed three robberies, that this person is part of an organized gang crew, mere fact that we can’t say that, and can’t communicate with that, is problematic for me.”

Given that a sanctuary status modification would likely need buy-in from the Council, the prospects of the mayor’s push appear grim.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said earlier this month her chamber has “no plans” to adjust the sanctuary laws. A Council spokesman referred to that comment from the speaker when asked for a response to the mayor’s latest remarks.

The existing version of the city’s sanctuary laws were enacted under former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014.

Before that, city agencies like the NYPD and the Department of Correction were able to detain undocumented immigrants charged with crimes on behalf of ICE until the federal agency could take over custody and process them for deportation. Back then, ICE even had an outpost on Rikers Island, a reality advocates and Democrats labeled cruel and damaging to the city’s reputation as a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

While he drew the ire of public defenders and immigration advocates over his support for overhauling the city’s sanctuary laws, Adams was hailed on social media by voices on the far-right end of the political spectrum.

“Wow! Mayor Adams is asking for a change in New York City’s sanctuary city law. Good for him,” Charlie Kirk, founder of the right-wing Turning Point USA group, wrote on X. “Now he needs to go all the way and move to abolish it.”

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