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A top-ranking federal immigration official slammed New York City’s sanctuary policy status Monday, saying it has prevented city law enforcement from cooperating with federal authorities in cases where migrants are identified as suspects in violent crimes.
“We want to assist. We want to help. The problem is, is due to city policies and state law, the cooperation is no longer afforded between the NYPD, the law enforcement partners and ICE,” said Kenneth Genalo, New York City field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “So unfortunately, a lot of the way we have to do our intelligence in ICE is the same way that you find out about cases — it’s through the media. We’re no longer contacted. We’re no longer called.”
Genalo, who spoke Monday morning in Times Square, was flanked by Republican lawmakers and a Democratic city councilman, Robert Holden of Queens, seeking to highlight the issue after NYPD officers were beaten by a group of migrants about a block away on Jan. 27.
That assault — which led to the arrest and release of some but not all of the suspects — has sparked a broader debate over whether Mayor Adams should seek to dismantle the city’s laws around being a sanctuary city.
At a news conference later in the day, Adams was asked about the ICE honcho’s criticism on a lack of engagement from city government on immigration enforcement matters. Adams said his administration does have conversations with ICE, but added that “the law is very clear on what I can do and what I can’t do.”
He then pointed a finger at the City Council, which passed laws in 2014 barring the city from detaining foreign nationals on behalf of the federal government for deportation purposes.
“This is a conversation for the City Council, that’s their law, that wasn’t my law,” Adams said of whether he would like to repeal the city’s sanctuary status designation. “Far too often, we leave bodies of government off the hook, we should be sitting down asking people to show: Where do y’all stand on this position?”
Council spokesman Rendy Desamours said that “violence against NYPD officers and municipal workers doing their jobs, or any New Yorker generally, is wrong and unacceptable,” but then added that “it’s also important that government officials provide accurate information to the public.”
“Existing New York City law allows individuals charged with crimes, regardless of their immigration status, to go through the legal process like any other person. City law does not prevent people from facing federal immigration proceedings,” he said. “Rather, it limits the involvement of our city agencies in being part of the federal immigration process to ensure immigrant communities aren’t deterred from seeking help or reporting crime to city officials out of fear of deportation due to their immigration status.”
The city’s sanctuary laws and policies prohibit the NYPD from helping federal immigration authorities with immigration enforcement itself, but do not necessarily preclude the Police Department from assisting the feds in criminal cases involving migrants.
Republicans’ criticism over the Big Apple’s sanctuary city status comes in a presidential election year, and as former President Donald Trump — who’s facing dozens of criminal charges and is seeking the GOP nomination — has argued that President Biden should do more to secure the southern border.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-S.I., Brooklyn), who stood alongside Genalo on Monday, demanded that the city “resume cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport individuals who are committing these dangerous crimes in our city.”
Genalo’s remarks Monday were notable given his high rank in a federal agency overseen by Biden, a Democrat.
He contended that city officials haven’t been honoring administrative warrants seeking to detain migrants — and are instead demanding judicial warrants — a provision of a more recent law enacted under former Mayor Bill de Blasio. According to Genalo, that isn’t in line with federal immigration law and has proven counterproductive.
“We don’t get a judicial warrant for these cases,” he said. “We have the authority to issue the warrants. So I’m willing to work with the mayor’s office and with the governor’s office to try and get back to the table to speak about having this situation addressed once again.”
He added that before the city adopted its most recent sanctuary city laws, ICE had an outpost at Rikers Island that “worked hand in hand” with the NYPD, but that ended when new laws were enacted under de Blasio.
“Basically, anyone at that time that was foreign-born was vetted by my staff, the immigration officers, to determine whether or not they were amenable to removal procedures. If they were, we took custody of them,” he said.
Genalo suggested that the situation has improved under Adams and that “at least we’re dialoguing again,” but that it has a ways to go.
“If they don’t contact us, if you don’t honor the detainers, there is no way that we can get them immediately,” he said of migrant criminal suspects. “At that point, we have to go searching for them, and obviously once they’re released, they can be in the wind, they can be going to another state or they can be going anywhere.”
Adams’ administration has offered a somewhat mixed message when it comes to the city’s sanctuary status. While the mayor himself has blamed a past iteration of the City Council, last week, his chief of staff, Camille Varlack, said that the city is in fact permitted to work with the feds when an arrest warrant is issued.
“We are able to participate and engage with and cooperate with law enforcement agencies on all levels generally. That’s the starting point for it,” she said. “With respect to the sanctuary law, what it essentially says is that if they are here for a purpose that is primarily immigration-related, that’s a different circumstance. So if the federal authorities are able to get a warrant for the arrest of these individuals, we are allowed to work with them and participate with them.”
On Monday, Adams said he supports the concept of deporting migrants who engage in violent crimes.
“If you assault police officers on the streets, I believe that if you’re found guilty, the federal government should do its job of deporting that person. If there should be more collaboration with ICE and others, that’s something that the Council should deliberate on and make a determination,” he said. “I cannot use city resources based on existing law. So I think that’s a question that should be presented to the City Council. How do they want to move forward on this issue?”