Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Friday subpoenaed New York for information of multiple illegal immigrants who have been arrested in New York City, but were shielded by the city’s controversial sanctuary city policies -- including one illegal immigrant who is accused of murdering a 92-year-old woman.
“Like any law enforcement agency, we are used to modifying our tactics as criminals shift their strategies; but it’s disheartening that we must change our practices and jump through so many hoops with partners who are restricted by sanctuary laws passed by politicians with a dangerous agenda,” Henry Lucero, acting Deputy Executive Associate Director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, said in a statement announcing the subpoenas on Saturday.
The subpoenas are being served on the New York Department of Corrections.
In a press release, the agency says that ICE can use subpoenas to obtain information on potentially deportable immigrants but does not normally need to do so, as local law enforcement agencies will normally provide agents with the information about arrested aliens they need. The move represents another escalation by the Trump administration in its ongoing fight against so-called sanctuary policies.
Sanctuary jurisdictions demand that local law enforcement limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities and ignore most ICE detainers. Those detainers are requests that ICE should be informed of an illegal immigrant’s pending release from custody so they can be transferred to deportation proceedings.
The controversy over New York City’s sanctuary policies fired up again this week after it emerged that Reeaz Khan -- an illegal immigrant from Guyana accused of sexually assaulting and murdering 92-year-old Maria Fuertes this month -- had been arrested in November on assault and weapons charges. ICE filed a detainer for Khan, but it was ignored and he was set free.
“A phone call, one simple phone call and Maria Fuertes could be alive today,” a visibly furious ICE Director Matthew Albence told reporters in New York City on Friday.
New York City has pushed back against the criticism, however, claiming that the policy makes New Yorkers safer.
“New York City has passed its own common-sense laws about immigration enforcement that have driven crime to record lows. There are 177 crimes under NYC law that trigger cooperation with federal authorities, if and when someone is convicted," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. “That policy has kept us safe.”
The subpoenas issued by ICE request information on four illegal immigrants. While none of the aliens are named, one is clearly Khan, as the agency identifies a Guyanese national charged with murder and other crimes including sexual abuse of a 92-year-old woman.
The other illegal immigrants ICE is seeking information on are:
- A citizen from El Salvador who was arrested in September for assault and is wanted in his home country for homicide. According to ICE, he was held in Rikers Island and a detainer lodged against him. But he was released in December.
- A Mexican man arrested in January for attempted rape, unlawful imprisonment and attempted assault. He also had two prior arrests. ICE issued a detainer, but he was released after posting bail.
- A Mexican man arrested in October on drug charges, who had previously sentenced to 60 months in federal prison in 2012 for attempting to import methamphetamine. He had also been previously deported to Mexico. ICE lodged a detainer against him, but recently discovered he too had been freed.
It’s the second time ICE has used its subpoena power in a week. Earlier this week it subpoenaed Denver seeking information on three Mexicans and one Honduran who had been in custody.
One of the Mexicans had been arrested for sexual assault, another for vehicular homicide, and a third for child abuse and strangulation assault. The Honduran man arrested on domestic violence charges. All had been previously removed from the country. Three were released from custody and one was still in custody.
Denver, however, denied the request, saying it could be “viewed as an effort to intimidate officers into help enforcing civil immigration law.”
Albence on Friday warned that the agency could use the subpoena tool more broadly if sanctuary jurisdictions didn’t hand over information about potentially dangerous illegal immigrants.
“These subpoenas are an attempt to at least defray some of the damage that is being done by these sanctuary policies,” Albence said. “I suspect that we'll start utilizing them much more broadly.”
But the move represents the next step in a fight that seems likely only to continue bubbling between the administration, which has pledged to take a hard line against criminals, illegal immigrants and liberal cities that have embraced sanctuary policies.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf on Friday took aim at the policies again, and specifically rejected the claim that it makes law-abiding Americans safer.
“What this does, the only sanctuary it provides is to criminals,” he said on "Fox & Friends." “It makes those communities less safe, it also makes ICE and law enforcement officials less safe so instead of picking up an individual in a confined jail setting, they have to go into communities to knock on doors and the like.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.