Brooklyn DA to hire immigration attorneys to protect borough’s immigrants
Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was at the recent Kings County Criminal Bar Association meeting on Thursday, where he an- nounced that his office will hire a pair of immigration attorneys to work with assistant district attorneys to ensure that immigrants don’t get deported for low-level crimes. “We are going to hire in the Brooklyn DA’s office one or two immigration attorneys like some of the defender services — the Brooklyn Defender Service and Legal Aid — have,” Gonzalez said. “They’re going to be a resource for the office so that we have internal people so that the ADAs think about the consequences on certain pleas.”
Gonzalez explained that many times immigrants will plea to misdemeanors and as a consequence, they will be deported. He added that many times this means that the punishment will not be in proportion to the crime committed.
“I grew up in the office and I’m very proud of the 20-plus years in the office, but I was trained that immigration is a collateral consequence and not something for me to be directly mindful of,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t stand by that anymore. If it’s a case where we are looking for a non-custodial plea, the thought of having someone deported because they pled to a misdemeanor is ridiculous.” As part of the effort to hand down more equitable sentences, Gonzalez said that he is working with the City Council to create a new dis- orderly conduct violation that will try to avoid collateral immigration consequences. “There are things that we can do in the Brooklyn DA’s office that will help keep immigrants safe and will be fair and just and proportional to the crimes that they have been alleged to commit and won’t impact them in a dis- proportionate way,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez then went on to talk about some of the examples of injustice that he has seen during his career. He explained that he has seen people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody for as many as 25 years or more for low-level drug crimes they were arrested for in the 90s.
“In many of these cases, the person — after 25 or 30 years, and for whatever rea- son — they tend to be women convicted in the ’90s of low- level drug crimes are being held in ICE custody and are being deported,” he said. “After 25 years, that seems insane, disproportionate and unfair. Moving forward, we’re going to do things in Brooklyn to try to make sure that the next generation of immigrants doesn’t have to face that.” Gonzalez wrapped up his announcement by stating that crime in Brooklyn is the lowest it has been in recorded history. He explained how a big part of this is due to the cooperation of the immigrant community and added if they don’t trust local law enforcement, it will only make the job of the DA’s office more difficult.
“We’re doing things that keep Brooklyn safe, but also to create a more fair criminal justice system,” he said.