‘We Are Not Going to be Able to Protect Everybody’ – NY City Council Speaker
by Edwin Martinez
Since Donald Trump took office as president of the United States and launched his immigration policies – with which he intends to deport millions of undocumented people – the city has assumed the protection of immigrants living in New York City as a priority. Although the city has declared itself a sanctuary city – where neither police officers nor any other authority will carry out immigration tasks – City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito admitted that she cannot guarantee that undocumented New Yorkers are not at risk of being deported.
In a worried tone, the political leader stated that the immigration outlook under Trump does not look promising, but asked people who do not have legal status to get informed and to join pro-immigrant organizations to prepare themselves in case they have any problems with “la migra.”
The Puerto Rican-born politician also said that the council will continue promoting laws to try to further protect undocumented people living in the five boroughs, and pointed out that the terror Trump is creating jeopardizes the safety of the city.
Mark-Viverito stressed that the fight must continue, and once again gave her word that New York will not hand over people who comply with the law or who have committed non-violent offenses to immigration authorities. The opposite will happen to people who have committed serious crimes.
What can you say to the thousands of undocumented people who are now terrified because of the way the Trump government is acting?
I will not say that they do not need to be afraid, because we don’t know how the president will implement what he is pronouncing. They are always saying that ICE (“la migra”) is already here and that’s it, but we try to be extremely careful about the information we release to the community. The most important thing is to stay informed, and we are trying, through the programs we are funding, to hold events in the community to let people know what their rights are, for families to have a plan, for people to be prepared. We want to have legal resources available, for people to be able to sit down with lawyers and for them to receive the best possible ad- vice. We are trying to be proactive with the community and letting them know what they can do.
With New York being a sanctuary city, can undocumented people be at ease?
We need to be careful. I think that this [federal] administration is being extremely irresponsible, but we are going to do everything we can to protect people. There are people who are making positive contributions, but I cannot say with certainty that we are going to protect everyone. In a way, because of what we are seeing, it is possible that there will be deportations. We are trying to see, through legal resources, through the law, what we can do to increase the level of protection, but we will not be able to protect everybody. I say that realistically and honestly.
Some say that New York will be a refuge where nothing can happen to undocumented people. What do you think of that belief?
People need to be careful when they say these things about coming here and being completely protected. We cannot say that definitively, to be honest, and it pains me greatly to have to say it.
But will your council continue to promote initiatives to further safeguard the city from the “la migra” effect?
We have worked very closely with the police department, and we have two laws in effect in this city to restrict the information we share with ICE. One of them applies to the police department and the other one with corrections, and we are trying to broaden them. These laws have been expanded upon consulting with the police department in order to find a balance between protecting the city to keep it safe and protecting people who are not danger- ous or harmful. We do not want to protect people who represent a hazard and who have committed violent crimes – those we will hand over – but if anyone has committed a non-violent offense, we will not turn them in.
By creating fear among the immigrant community, isn’t Trump’s government putting security at risk, as some people will refrain from reporting anything? Exactly. Now the federal government comes and tries to destroy this work we have done and that has resulted in us having the safest big city in the nation.
Would you like to meet with President Trump to try to make him un- derstand the real effect of his policies?
No, in all honesty, I am not interested. I am an open person who gives people a chance, but he has made it quite clear where he stands and he will not change his mind. So, why waste my time? Let other people do that; I won’t.
Are you afraid that, on the pretext of ensuring safety, Trump and his government will commit abuses against the population?
That is already happening. What happened with the young woman who had a tumor [in Texas]? She was in the hospital and was taken to a detention center. What risk does she represent to the safety of this country? She is a person who is suffering. And they are taking the woman enduring domestic violence, they go to court and take her right there, when she is trying to defend and protect herself. These are not people who are putting our country in danger. They are using us as scapegoats.
Is Trump acting as if he was above the law?
That is basically what he is doing. “We’re going to do what we’re going to do, and if any- one wants to do some- thing about it, well, we’ll deal with it in court. Until then, we’ll do whatever we want.” Although that is chal- lenging the law, it is a problem. We are at a moment of high anxiety and much danger, but we keep on fighting.
Trump said that he will only deport undocumented criminals, but it is easy for others to fall in that category due to minor offenses that, in New York, are included in a criminal record, such as urinating on the street. Are you not concerned that the police may subject people to criminal processes for some offenses, making them deportable, instead of giving them a fine?
I don’t think so, considering what the commissioner has said [about protecting immigrants and not helping ICE], and I am continuing that conversation with him. We are trying to mini- mize our employees’ ability to have [undocumented] people entering the deportation system for non-violent offenses. Even though the police department maintains discretion [the agents decide whether to impose fines or send people to criminal authorities for minor offenses], based on the commissioner’s message I don’t think that will happen.
What do you think about Mayor de Blasio’s intention to expand the existing list of 170 offenses that may make an undocumented person deportable?
I do not agree with that because that list of offenses was made after an agreement was reached with the police department, analyzed from top to bottom, and I am confident that the list does not need to be expanded. The mayor said that publicly, but that list of offenses came to be after a debate.
Because you are an advocate for immigrants and the needy in New York, many New Yorkers would like to see you become mayor. Is that part of your plans?
Well, for now, I am supporting de Blasio for re-election, but I am keeping my options open to explore that possibility. Assuming another public seat is an option I keep open.
Once you leave the council next year, what will your future look like?
Certainly I want to be present here in New York, advocating and fighting for the city, but I also understand that there is a Trump in the White House, and I want to contribute in some way with a national coalition or resistance effort against this administration. I am also open to that.
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