Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Catherine Wilson, Bureau Chief
Northern Westchester

The Implications Of Expanding “287g” Legislation

New York State Assemblyman Greg Ball, (R)-Carmel, recently introduced legislation to expand the federal government’s 287(g) Program. is program provides training to local, county, and state law enforcement officials as to how to initiate deportation proceedings for illegal aliens involved in crime. Matt Neuringer, Legislative Director for Assemblyman Ball, told The Guardian, “this (proposed) law is one of the most comprehensive 287(g) legislations in the nation. We are not only addressing illegal immigrant criminals, but also the hiring practices of businesses in hiring these individuals.”

According to Neuringer, “ The average illegal alien criminal has a recidivating rate of 8 times; 30% of those who cross our southern border already have a past criminal history; 287(g) serves as a deterrent”. Neuringer stated that New York State currently spends over $165 million annually on the incarceration of illegal aliens.

Many opponents to the proposed The Implications Of Expanding “287g” Legislation 287(g) legislation argue that the vehicle is already in place. Indeed, Neuringer admitted that “Currently 43 out of the 62 counties in New York State accept federal funding through a State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP).

According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), “SCAAP provides federal payments to states and localities that incurred correctional officer salary costs for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens with at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of state or local law, and incarcerated for at least 4 consecutive days during the reporting period.” Neuringer claims that the federal government only reimburses 20% of the actual costs incurred by the states. However, according to the BJA website, their reimbursement rate
is 33.5%. e actual dollars distributed would support this calculation. In 2007, New York State received over $53 million in SCAAP. If indeed the state spent $165 million on incarceration of illegal alien criminals, $53 million represents approximately a 32% reimbursement.
In 2007, Westchester County received $515,410 from this Federal program.

Assemblyman Ball stressed, “My objective is to make sure that the 287(g) focuses like a surgical laser on criminal illegal aliens. It is not about the larger immigration issue.” Ball noted that he is currently working on legislation to provide assistance to legal immigrants to obtain services and find employment.

“The immigration process we have now penalizes individuals who obey the law. I believe we should expand the visas but complimented with securing our borders.” Ball stated. “The New York economy needs a strong influx of immigrants to grow. But we need the federal government
to take on more of the burden. This legislation would assure that we would get federal dollars,” he said. Ball dismissed the criticism of the legislation by local law enforcement groups who stated that they already have these methods and programs in place. Ball observed, “While law enforcement is working hard and doing their jobs, there are still tens of thousands of illegal alien criminals going back into our Communities”.

Neuringer implied that Assemblyman Ball’s 287(g) legislation would be a useful tool in combating terrorism. Assemblyman Ball had said, “New York is the second greatest target after Jerusalem. One day before 9/11, four of the terrorists were pulled over for a traffic stop. One of the terrorists had overstayed his visa so he was here illegally”. Neuringer noted that the 287(g) legislation would provide local law enforcement officials with access to federal databases to make identifications in those types of situations. But Neuringer admitted that the
terrorists had over 200 different identity documents.

As The Guardian noted in the Broudwiack case, one of the difficulties that law enforcement has had in verifying one’s status is whether the identification the individual is providing is accurate to begin with. The Guardian was informed in that particular case, by law enforcement officials, that seasoned career criminals are quite adept at evading identification. Even if a law enforcement official has the federal database at his/her disposal, they need correct information to input, to begin with, or else the data base is worthless. Accountants refer to this information as “garbage in, garbage out!

Further, as The Guardian reported in the Broudwiack case, the data bases are not consistent nationally. What may be a felony in one state is often a misdemeanor in another. Also, states do not have the funding or resources to provide historical information to these databases so
that old criminal records are always accessible. Broudwiack was a repeat sex offender who had been previously deported and was detained in Port Chester during a traffic stop.

However, he escaped incarceration after making bail and his current whereabouts are still unknown. Assemblyman Ball notes that his legislation would prevent such outcomes since it would allow for a judge to detain an individual who cannot prove their identity for a three-day period before posting bail. This proposal is very similar to the British detention laws in Northern Ireland which allowed that government to detain suspects for up to one week. Despite the fact that the British law was ruled to be a violation of human rights conventions by a European Union Court, this did not prevent similar laws from being enacted throughout Europe.

In October of last year, German newspapers reported that, due to a new wave of anti-terrorism legislation, political opponents and investigative journalists have come under attack in a “crime of association”. The newspapers reported groups being held under these laws who do not fit the description of terrorist organizations. Under Ball’s proposed legislation, anyone detained by the police who cannot prove their identity can be detained for three days. However, many individuals who are poor, mentally-ill, suffering from dementia/memory or
health problems, and even victims of crimes may be unable to immediately prove their identities and could fall into this category for detention and incarceration. Many current immigrants have escaped persecution in their home countries.

According to Carola Bracco, the Executive Director of Neighbor’s Link, an immigrant assistance organization in Mt. Kisco, “Most of the individuals we work with are Moms and Dads and their children. They have strong values and an incredible work ethic. They also have an incredible amount of courage.” But Bracco still notes that their fear over the impending legislation is ‘significant’. He told The Guardian, “Our members want to be part of the community. They want to be integrated. But this legislation will make them afraid of the police. They will be afraid to report crimes and employers who mistreat them”.

Bracco noted that the immigrants she works with have a strong relationship with the Mount Kisco Police Department now. She noted, “We
have the police department come here and run workshops. Over one hundred people will attend. Everyone in the room is looking for a safe community,” Bracco stressed.

Bracco is concerned about the language used by some of the individuals with respect to this issue. “People are not ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’”, she stressed. She stated, “This is about documentation. The people we deal with are ‘undocumented’. They want to be part of our community.
They have an appreciation for our community and what our volunteers and organizations do for them.” Bracco noted “Solutions on these issues come forward when people work together”.

Cecilia Bikkal, an immigration attorney in White Plains, agreed with Bracco that most immigrants want to be here legally. Bikkal stressed that the immigrants she deals with pay taxes and receive limited or no benefits in return. She said, “The first thing I advise my clients is to file and pay their federal income taxes. Even if an employer is paying them in cash, they can obtain a 1099 form and a tax identification number and report their cash earned”. Bikkal noted that certification for an immigrant to become legal can take years and during that time period “they are not entitled to receive unemployment, nor social security or Medicare or Medicaid, or health benefits, unless their employer provides
them. So, even though they are paying taxes, they receive no benefits from those taxes in return”. Bikkal noted further, “All immigrants are paying sales taxes into our local communities; and, if they own property, they are paying real estate taxes as well”.

Ball’s proposed legislation has drawn the attention of national groups, the “Families of 9/11” among them. He notes this group as the co-host of his website, However, not all members of the 9/11 Families support Ball’s legislation. In her speech following Ball’s forum at the Mahopac Library on April 19 on this issue, Valerie Lucznikowska, an aunt of a 9/11 victim, claims, “Partisan political groups and individuals attempt to blur the real problems of this country – that of a failing economy dependent on foreign oil skyrocketing in price, the lack of health care that places the United States at the bottom of the list of developed countries, the falling number of good jobs available, growing unemployment, and the soaring national debt. They are trying to replace those real problems with a fear of others who are not like us – ‘the others’ – foreigners. They are playing on emotions to hide their failures”.

Lucznikowska agreed with the arguments of the local law enforcement agencies in opposition to this legislation, stating, “We should be worrying about the budgets for our local police, schools and other services that have been slashed by reduced federal aid because our money is going to a failed war that was started with lies. Turning our local police forces into immigration police is not making us safer, it is doing
the opposite, taking them away from the real concerns of any local police force”.

Local community organizations representing numerous ethnic groups have formed a coalition, The Hudson Valley Community Coalition, to address these issues. Prominent amongst their members are Irish and Asian communities, as well as Hispanic groups, all equally frustrated
over current immigration laws. In 2006, Ireland received only 54 Lottery Visas and 1,906 Green Cards. The Irish immigrant groups’ frustration over immigration policies has attracted the attention of Senators McCain and Clinton, both of whom have advocated overall
reform. Jon Riley, a spokesperson for the Coalition, spoke to The Guardian about their mutual concerns. “I don’t know anyone who is in favor of illegal immigration.

I don’t know anyone who is in favor of criminals. I know people who want a sane immigration policy that can be strictly enforced.” Riley stated. “What is good for America is that we have the right people to do the right jobs. Immigration Policy should reflect the needs of the country, from the intellectuals to the laborers.” Riley continued, “Immigration Policy is a federal responsibility. The government’s inability to legislate a workable system has led it to talk tough, but allow hundreds of thousands of undocumented people to fill the voids in the economy. Failure is too kind a word for the inaction of our national leadership.

Instead of reforming the system, the Federal Government has come up with an alleged policy, which simply gives the illusion of action: 287g. This does nothing for America”.

Riley had strong words for the proposed legislation: “287g is not a cure for federal incompetence. It is not a substitute for intelligent immigration reform. 287g may even be well intentioned. But, it is being used by the worst political panderers. It gives them a pass on viable
solutions. We are getting fear mongerers when we need leaders. That may be good for a local politician, but it is bad for America.”

The Coalition addressed the residents of the Hudson Valley in an open letter dated April 19, 2008. In this letter, co-signed by thirty-five local organizations from police associations to ethnic groups, the Coalition stressed, “We believe such actions will undermine trust and cooperation between police and the communities they are sworn to protect, divert law enforcement resources away from more important policing activities, lead to costly mistakes and civil rights violations, and make us all less safe”.

The Coalition notes, “Like all Americans, we are concerned about public safety and security. We want to protect our families and our communities from crime and terrorism. We also understand that serious and comprehensive immigration reform is needed to resolve our country’s immigration problems. “

All of these groups agree that they want a safe community. As Ms. Bracco pointed out, many of the immigrants she deals with escaped unsafe environments themselves. Like Ms. Bracco and the Hudson Valley Community Coalition, they want to work together to resolve
this issue so that we all can be safe in our communities.

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