The New York City Police Department has been notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about arrested immigrants who are in the country illegally before they appear in court for misdemeanor crimes, potentially defying Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio's vow that New York City would remain a jurisdiction that limits its cooperation with immigration officials, also known as a "sanctuary city."
During two separate court cases in March, the NYPD alerted ICE that the defendants were immigrants in the country without permission, New York Daily News reports.
On March 2, an NYPD administrative aide contacted ICE and disclosed that the department had arrested 51-year-old David Gonzalez and that he was awaiting trial on a misdemeanor charge for rubbing up against a woman on a train. On March 15, the same aide notified ICE about 35-year-old Milton Chimborazo, who had been charged with a misdemeanor for burglary.
Both Gonzalez and Chimborazo are in the country illegally. Gonzalez was taken into ICE custody shortly after his court appearance. ICE agents chose not to arrest Chimborazo.
Since 2014, the official New York City policy was that local police would not detain an immigrant for ICE agents or refer them to the immigration agency unless the suspect had been accused of a violent crime or serious felony.
In these cases, the NYPD had contacted ICE while verifying warrants against Gonzalez and Chimborazo and notified the immigration agents when the two defendants were scheduled to appear in court.
"I think it really is outrageous," said deputy director Lori Zeno of Queens Law Associates. "We're supposed to be a sanctuary city. What does it mean if our own court system is participating in turning in folks to ICE?"
Zeno added that the NYPD appeared to be "in collusion with ICE."
De Blasio has been a vocal defender of New York City's sanctuary policies. On Jan. 25, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order to withhold federal funding for cities that do not fully cooperate with ICE agents, de Blasio said he was prepared to challenge the directive in court, according to Politico.
"The stroke of a pen in Washington does not change the people of New York City or our values ... We will not deport law abiding New Yorkers," De Blasio said. "We will not tear families apart."
In response to the NYPD notifying ICE about Gonzales and Chimborazo, De Blasio spokesman Austin Finan noted that the mayoral office was aware that the department regularly communicated with immigration agents.
"NYPD notifies and confirms with all inquiring and arresting agencies the status of an arrestee who may be the subject of a warrant," Finan said.
NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis asserted that the notifications did not violate the city's sanctuary policies.
"Nothing was compromised in terms of the policies of the department," Davis said. "These guys didn't suffer any consequence."
Commissioner Nisha Agarwal of the New York City Mayor's Office for Immigrant Affairs notes that while de Blasio has vowed to maintain sanctuary policies, there is no recourse if immigration agents apprehend immigrants in public spaces.
"I think that one thing that's really important for folks to know is that the city really does, genuinely, have limited capacity," Agarwal told Al Jazeera. "ICE has the ability to arrest people in public spaces. Unfortunately, the city does not have the ability to intervene in their behavior in those sorts of actions."