By Maurice Pinzon
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is ready to meet with Council member Hiram Monserrate to address the concerns of the Council member and advocates over an Executive Order the Mayor issued. The developing dialogue between the Mayor and Council member Monserrate seeks to strike a balance that allows immigrants to access City services without fear while the City complies with Federal law.
Until now, don’t worry, we promise not to tell — unless Federal law forces us — seems to have been the Executive Order 34’s logic. The Executive Order signed by Mayor Bloomberg in May “revoked” former Mayor Edward Koch’s previous order prohibiting City employees from sharing information about New Yorkers’ immigration status. However, Mr. Koch’s Executive Order did have provisions for instances of suspected criminal activity.
Nevertheless, it appears that Mayor Bloomberg has recognized flaws in Executive Order 34’s message, if not its content, and is moving to address the criticism. Mayor Bloomberg said, “The Councilman and I have discussed our mutual understanding and concern for undocumented immigrants who need to access City services.” He continued, “We are trying to protect immigrants and all New Yorkers while meeting the mandates imposed on us by Federal law. In the end it is our job to promote the public health, welfare and safety of all residents and to make sure they have access to essential City services such as health care and education.”
In early June when the Executive Order was first revealed, Council member Monserrate and advocates for immigrants immediately criticized the Mayor’s policy. Council member Monserrate believes Mayor Bloomberg’s Executive Order 34 would discourage immigrants from cooperating in police investigations if they thought their personal information would be shared unnecessarily with authorities.
Indeed, on June 20 when reporters from New York News Network were interviewing Council member Monserrate in his office, he received a call from the local police precinct, which asked him to reach out to the community and ask for cooperation in an investigation of the homicide of teenager Alejandro Brito. The police turned to Council member Monserrate because he served on the police force for 12 years, and he also has close ties to the immigrant community.
In response, Council member Monserrate organized a press conference to which he invited the local and immigrant press. There the Council member said, “The only way to take back our streets is to ensure criminals are found and prosecuted. We cannot do that without your help. Anyone with information related to Alejandro’s death is urged to come forward.”
Donna Liberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, agrees that such cooperation would be hindered if the Executive Order were left in place. In a telephone interview with New York News Network, Ms. Liberman said Executive Order 34 “completely exempts police enforcement. This is a problem when someone is a victim or a witness…People will be afraid to report crime.”
The New York Immigration Coalition sent Mayor Bloomberg a letter urging him to revise the Executive Order with “provisions that protect New Yorkers from inquiry into confidential information when they interact with law enforcement officers, unless there is reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that a person is engaging in criminal activity and such information is necessary to cooperate in a criminal investigation.”
Another major problem with the Mayor’s Executive Order 34, according to advocates, is the difficulty in determining which services immigrants can access without being asked about their immigration status. The Bloomberg administration has not yet compiled a list of essential services immigrants can access, such as City hospitals and Board of Education schools.
Norman Eng, a spokesman for The New York Immigration Coalition, gave an example of a mother whose children may be eligible for services. When she is asked about her immigration status, she may decide not to enroll her children in the program. The immigration status of one family member ends up affecting everyone else in the family.
Until now, various sources have indicated that advocates have not received a list of essential services that immigrants can access without being subject to reporting requirements by City employees. In reviewing Executive Order 34, Ms. Liberman said, “Organizations cannot say to their clients access these services.”
Lupe Todd, a spokeswoman for New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, said the Speaker recognizes the “yeoman job” Council member Monserrate has done on this issue. But Ms. Todd said Speaker Miller “would like to see the goals of the legislation addressed through Executive Order 34.” Ms. Todd was referring to the “Access Without Fear” legislation introduced by Council member Monserrate to protect the privacy of all New Yorkers when they request City services.