Brooklyn DA Will Protect Immigrants from Deportation for Minor Offenses

by Camille Padilla-Dalmau

On Monday April 24, only days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to eight “sanctuary cities” including New York with an ultimatum stating that they will lose federal funding if they refuse to co- operate with ICE, Brook- lyn’s District Attorney’s Office announced new measures to protect immi- grants from being deported for minor offenses.

The initiative will educate staff attorneys about the legal consequences related to immigration that non-U.S. citizens accused of certain crimes may face. In addition, they will instruct defense lawyers in criminal court. “Now more than ever we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to unintended and severe consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart and destabilize our communities and businesses,” said Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric González.

The government official said that the DA’s office has hired two immigration lawyers to train its staff and offer personalized guidance to defense attorneys who do not know the consequences that certain crimes may have on an individual’s immigra- tion status even if he or she is a legal resident.

González told El Diario that he is promoting this policy because many people with legal status plead guilty to a crime, pay their debt to soci- ety, go on with their lives and, 10 or 20 years down the line, are prevented from obtaining citizenship or re-entering the United States after visiting their country.

The unpredictable way in which the White House is implementing immigration law has caused much confusion in the courts. “A few months ago, lawyers were telling their clients that they didn’t know if their convictions would have an impact on their lives,” said the dis- trict attorney, adding that, in his 20-year career, he has never seen defendants being properly educated on the consequences of pleading guilty. González stressed that one-third of Brooklyn’s population is immigrant. The new rules do not require staff attorneys to ask about an individual’s immigration status but encourages the DA’s staff to be alert to the possibility that a defendant may be a non-citizen. If such is the case, assistant district attorneys (ADAs) must ad- vise the defense attorney about the consequences.

These negative consequences need to be considered when the time comes to reach a legal agreement or a potential sentence. Whenever possible, if an appropriate disposition or sentence recommendation can be offered that neither jeopardizes public safety nor leads to removal or to any other disproportionate collateral consequence, the ADA should offer that disposition or make that recommendation.

An “immigration-neutral” disposition

To reach an immigration-neutral disposition, ADAs may consider alternative offenses to which the defendant can plead. The alternative should be similar in level of offense and length of sentence to that offered to a citizen defendant, while the charge may be different. For instance, instead of accusing someone of petty theft, which carries immigration consequences, the person may be charged with posses- sion of stolen goods, which would not be a reason for deportation.

The district attorney recognizes that this will be impossible to do in certain cases, as many felony convictions will come attached with inevitable “and often appropriate” immigration consequences. González emphasized that he “is not seeking to frustrate the federal government.”

“Our goal is to enhance public safety and fairness in the criminal justice system, and this policy complements, but does not compromise, this goal. We will not stop prose- cuting crimes, but we are de- termined to see that case outcomes are proportionate to the offense as well as fair and just for everyone,” he said, adding that he expects the new measure to help Brook- lyn immigrants to feel more comfortable making claims at the DA’s office.

In a statement praising the Brooklyn DA’s action, New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) Executive Director Steve Choi said: “Misdemeanors and low-level offenses often trap immigrants who are unfamiliar with the legal process and potentially expose them to harsh ‘double punishment’ of being deported and ripped from their families.”

A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said that Vance’s office also “applauds” González’s effort.

“[Staff] attorneys need to play a role in protecting New Yorkers – including those ac- cused of crimes – from unfair and unnecessary deportations,” said the spokesman. Last month, the Manhattan DA’s office created a new position to develop district attorneys’ knowledge of immigration law and the federal government’s trends in applying the law.

Like the positions created by the Brooklyn DA’s office, a Manhattan lawyer is now in charge of discussing with ADAs what consequences a person could face with regards to immigration, housing and employment if found guilty.

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Posted by on May 11 2017. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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