Outgoing New York Gov. David A. Paterson has brokered an agreement with federal immigration authorities that would allow deportable but law abiding Caribbean-born immigrants in New York. to remain in the country.
A day before he demitted office, Paterson said he reached an agreement with federal officials to help protect illegal Caribbean and other immigrants without criminal records.
Paterson, the grandson of Jamaican and Grenadian immigrants, said on Dec. 30 that the agreement seeks to mollify critics of a new government program to strengthen immigration enforcement.
He said the agreement ensures that immigrants who pose the greatest threat to public safety – convicted criminals, not individuals who are merely in the country illegally – are “a priority” for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“While I am very concerned with protecting the civil rights of immigrants, I am equally cognizant of the fact that this state is a prime target for terrorism,” Paterson said.
“This new agreement balances the homeland security and civil liberties issues that have surrounded the Secure Communities initiative,” he added.
“I continue to believe it is appropriate and important for New York State to share information with the federal government that could protect us from terrorist attacks,” the former governor continued.
Under the enforcement program, called Secure Communities, fingerprints collected by local police departments are automatically shared with federal immigration officials.
Paterson said the “cornerstone” of Secure Communities is the activation of new information-sharing capabilities to automatically alert local law enforcement and ICE when potentially deportable criminal immigrants come into local custody.
Advocates for the immigrant community had expressed concern that, under the original agreement, Caribbean and other immigrants charged with minor offenses could face deportation.
They had also expressed concern that such a sweeping initiative would discourage immigrants from cooperating with police, ultimately hindering law enforcement and undermining public safety.
With the new agreement, Paterson said “it is clear that convicted felons, and not individuals whose only offense is remaining in the country illegally, are the target of Secure Communities.”
“The agreement also makes clear that aliens with misdemeanor convictions and pose no discrete threat to national security are not the focus of Secure Communities,” he said.
Rather, Paterson said their purpose is to “identify, detain and remove from the United States aliens who have been previously deported and who illegally [re-]entered the country, or who are subject to removal because they pose a homeland security concern or threat to the public safety.”
The negotiated agreement comes as Paterson last week pardoned 24 immigrants, including Caribbean nationals, who were subjected to deportation because of prior criminal convictions.
Though he did not identify the nationalities of all the immigrants who had faced deportation, Paterson singled out one, Haitian Edouard Colas.
He said Colas was brought to the U.S. from Haiti as a lawful permanent resident at age 10, convicted in 1997 of Attempted Burglary in the Third Degree and sentenced to five years on probation.
Paterson said the individuals pardoned committed past offenses “but paid their debt to society.”
“They now make positive contributions to our state and nation, and I believe they should be protected from inflexible and misguided immigration statutes,” he said.
Earlier last month, the ex-governor pardoned six immigrants, including four Caribbean nationals, who had faced a similar fate.
They comprised Jamaicans Marlon Oscar Powell, 36, and Sanjay Broomfield, 28; Darshini Ramsaran, 25, who holds Guyanese and Trinidadian dual citizenship; and Mario Benitez, 58, a Dominican Republic immigrant.