The District Attorney’s office is launching a new policy aimed at helping immigrants convicted of low-level offenses avoid deportation.
The policy seeks to protect the borough’s vulnerable foreign-born residents by trying to sidestep out-of-proportion immigration consequences for those charged with certain misdemeanors or nonviolent crimes, said the acting district attorney.
“Now, more than ever, we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to draconian consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart, and destabilize communities and businesses,” said Eric Gonzalez.
The policy aims to scale back the effects of criminal prosecution for immigrants by calling on hundreds of Brooklyn prosecutors to try to secure guilty pleas without using federal laws that could detain or deport the undocumented, or spell trouble for those looking to become citizens. Under President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice has prioritized the deportation of both undocumented and legal immigrants convicted of even low-level crimes.
Under Gonzalez’s new policy, borough prosecutors will be obligated to alert clients to potential immigration consequences of their cases and — as long as it doesn’t compromise public safety — work to achieve what the district attorney’s office calls an “immigration-neutral disposition.”
But some immigrant advocates feel the policy doesn’t go far enough.
“Increased sensitivity to immigration consequences is a positive step” said Ward Oliver, a head attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s immigration law unit, “but we hope that their vision expands beyond low-level offenses to all situations where arbitrary decisions in prosecution and punishment — one day less in a jail sentence or a different felony charge — can make the difference in whether an immigrant has the possibility of remaining in the United States.”
And some argue to policy is wrong-headed from he outset. Ridge Assembly member — and Republican mayoral candidate — Nicole Malliotakis slammed the policy as creating an unfair loophole that allows immigrants to avoid punishment for their crimes.
“This unfairly creates two justice systems: one for citizens, and one for illegal immigrants,” said Malliotakis (R–Bay Ridge), who officially filed paperwork this week to run for mayor. “It is outrageous that a district attorney, whose job is to enforce the laws of our city and state and ensure that victims receive justice, would create a situation that allows an individual to plea down to a lesser crime simply because he or she is undocumented.”
Gonzales stressed that the new policy won’t endanger the public, but rather create a more equitable approach for prosecuting immigrants.
“Our goal is to enhance public safety and fairness in the criminal justice system and this policy complements, but does not compromise, this goal,” said Gonzales. “We will not stop prosecuting crimes, but we are determined to see that case outcomes are fair and just for everyone.”