NEW YORK – A video showing a group of immigrants fighting with police in Times Square has sparked a political furor and renewed debate over a long-standing New York City policy that limits cooperation between local police and local authorities. federal immigration authorities.
Surveillance footage, recorded on Jan. 27 outside a homeless shelter in Manhattan, shows several men kicking officers on a sidewalk and trying to push them away from a man who police had tackled to the ground. Police arrested seven people in connection with the attack, although prosecutors dropped charges against one person they say may not have been involved.
No one was seriously injured, but video of officers being beaten has sparked waves of public outrage. Some of that fury has been directed at prosecutors and the judicial system after several of those arrested were released from jail while awaiting trial.
Increasingly, New York City officials have directed dire rhetoric at the tens of thousands of asylum seekers the city has housed in shelters and hotels over the past year. Some of the comments have dismayed immigration advocates, who say they are stirring up hate for the actions of a few bad apples.
“A wave of immigration crimes has invaded our city,” Police Commissioner Edward Caban said Monday at a news conference about a Venezuelan man wanted in a series of cell phone thefts. He compared the suspect’s accomplices to “phantom criminals,” stating that they had arrived in New York “with no criminal record, no photos, no social media.”
The NYPD released video showing Mayor Eric Adams joining officers as they raided a Bronx apartment building in connection with that investigation Monday morning. The video included ominous music and an officer warned of “migrants preying on vulnerable New Yorkers,” while footage played of a woman being dragged behind a scooter during a purse snatching.
However, when pressed for details to support the claim of a crime wave, police and city officials said they could not provide them because the city does not track crime trends by nationality of suspects.
Most crime categories have declined since a surge in migrant arrivals began 18 months ago.
Alexa Avilés, head of the City Council’s immigration committee, accused the mayor and the New York Police Department of following “the same old Trumpian scaremongering and systematic scapegoating of a diverse and vulnerable group of people.”
“I thought, ‘Has crime gone down?’” Avilés added. “Where is the evidence to support these claims?”
In press appearances Monday, Adams noted that the vast majority of the nearly 175,000 immigrants who have arrived in the city respect the law. He said it would be a mistake for “any New Yorker to consider people trying to take the next step toward the American dream as criminals.”
But in recent days, Adams has also shown a willingness to withdraw a set of laws that often prevent the city from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement efforts.
Describing the Times Square incident as “an attack on the foundation of our symbol of safety,” Adams, a moderate Democrat and former police captain, asked the City Council to consider “whether there should be more collaboration” with federal officials. immigration. He did not give further details.
Since 2014, the city’s police department and jails have been prohibited from holding people in custody on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless they have been convicted of certain violent crimes and a judge has issued a warrant. order for his expulsion.
Federal immigration authorities have no presence in the city’s prison system. City resources are not supposed to be used to assist in the detention and deportation process.
Experts said it was not immediately clear what role, if any, the city’s so-called “sanctuary” policies may have played in the cases of the men accused of assaulting officers in Times Square.
An ICE spokesperson did not respond to an emailed question about whether they were seeking to detain the people involved in the fight.
Although police officials have expressed outrage that five of the six arrested suspects were released, the city’s immigration policies do not influence the decisions of prosecutors and judges who set bail.
Responding to public criticism, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said his office was still working to ensure all of the men were correctly identified. One of the men arrested was not prosecuted due to lack of evidence of his involvement, a Bragg spokesman said.
He said more people involved in the attack are likely to be arrested in the coming days. Prosecutors will present evidence to a grand jury starting Tuesday.
Proponents of the city’s sanctuary laws say they bolster public safety by ensuring that immigrant communities are not afraid to interact with the legal system, not only as criminal defendants, but as witnesses or potential victims of crimes.
A decade ago, New York City held up to 3,000 people in custody each year to help federal immigration authorities initiate detention and deportation proceedings. In some cases, immigration lawyers said, police would proactively alert federal authorities immediately after making an arrest, long before a conviction was obtained.
At a news conference Monday alongside conservative elected officials, Kenneth Genalo, director of ICE’s New York field office, said the city’s lack of cooperation had made it difficult to deport criminals.
“They don’t contact us anymore,” he said. “There are hundreds of people arrested throughout the city, and if we can’t determine which ones are the most violent, unfortunately we will have to find out through the media.”
Murad Awawheh, executive director of the Immigration Coalition, warned that the mayor’s comments about reducing sanctuary protections could have a chilling effect on the city’s more than half a million undocumented immigrants.
“Why are they fanning the flames now?” Awawdeh said. “It seems like he’s trying to get people to look away from the bigger issues, which is his lack of city management right now.”