Lawyers to city: Stop searching homeless shelters for wanted criminals

Lawyers to city: Stop searching homeless shelters for wanted criminals
Legal Aid Society

Public defenders want cops to stop sweeping homeless shelters for people with open arrest warrants, because it is discouraging the indigent from seeking help — especially those who are here illegally and fear deportation under President Trump’s new executive order instructing cities to crack down on undocumented people — according to a member of the Legal Aid Society, the city’s largest public-defense group.

“Anybody who has a concern about an immigration issue doesn’t want to see people in a uniform,” said Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney for the society who also works with advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless. “If they know periodically that the police sweep through shelters looking to arrest people that’s going to be extremely discouraging to coming off the streets.”

Trump’s order directs agencies to swiftly deport illegal aliens who have committed or are wanted for committing a crime, as well as people who have misrepresented themselves on government documents or who have abused public-assistance programs.

Mayor DeBlasio has said he would not fully honor that request, but he is considering expanding the list of 170 felonies for which the city will work with the Feds to deport perpetrators — essentially any violent or sexual crimes, as well as major drug offenses.

But Hizzoner actually needs to go easier on those folks if he ever wants to reign in the city’s growing homeless population, according to Goldfein, who said Legal Aid Society has been in talks with the administration.

“We would like them, if anything, to reduce the list of offenses that they can arrest people for, because it creates liability and unwillingness for people to come forward for services,” he said. “As part of that conversation we’ll also be discouraging law enforcement from coming into shelters where some fear they’ll be arrested and deported.”

The police did not respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at mspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.