Written Testimony by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. for City Council Committees on Immigration and the Justice System
Oversight Hearing on “ICE Out of New York Courts”
Chairs Menchaca and Lancman, and members of the Committees on Immigration and the Justice System, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony for the City Council’s oversight hearing on prohibiting Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents from making civil arrests at New York State courthouses without a judicial warrant or court order.
New York is the safest big city in America. It is also a city of immigrants. We regard undocumented New Yorkers as equal members of our community. Through this legislation, the Committees are seeking to help keep immigrants safe in the midst of an unsafe and threatening federal environment. District Attorney Vance supports the Protect Our Courts Act (A.2176/S.425), sponsored by Assemblymember Michaelle Solages and Senator Brad Hoylman, because undocumented New Yorkers need to be protected while participating in, observing, or traveling to or from court proceedings.
Deporting New Yorkers who show up to court is antithetical to our values and detrimental to our public safety. The fear of unjust deportation stops crime victims from coming forward, and stops defendants from responsibly attending their court dates. These policies threaten to marginalize immigrant New Yorkers to the point where they no longer report crimes or terror plots. And so, local prosecutors like me now have to work twice as hard to assure immigrants that our office is a safe place to report crime without fear of getting deported.
This isn’t merely an anecdote. Statistics demonstrate that undocumented individuals are afraid to come forward and speak to law enforcement in this climate. Last year, the Manhattan DA’s Office received just 153 applications for U-visas from crime victims or witnesses, down from 185 requests in 2016 and 186 requests in 2017. The decline in applications reflects the alarming reality that victims of serious crimes are not coming forward thanks to increased federal immigration enforcement. And it is essential that immigrants can once again feel safe coming to court, and help us take dangerous or violent criminals off our streets.
To combat this troubling downturn, the Manhattan DA’s Office has dramatically ramped up our outreach to undocumented New Yorkers to remind them that our office is a safe place to report crime – and get connected with services – without fear of deportation. This work includes deepening our relationships with foreign consular offices in Manhattan, building new partnerships with community-based organizations on the front lines of serving undocumented New Yorkers, and delivering presentations which encourage undocumented New Yorkers to report crimes to our office without fear of deportation. In these presentations, we also inform undocumented New Yorkers that we have opened Manhattan DA neighborhood offices in Washington Heights and Harlem where they can safely report crime.
I thank the Council for drawing attention to this important issue. We urge the immediate passage of the Protect Our Courts Act in the state legislature.