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Broken Borders

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Maryland and New York Prosecutors Give Immigrants Lesser Charges to Avoid Deportation

May 5th 2017

Stop the Raids immigration protest

Prosecutors in New York City and Baltimore have ordered their staff to refrain from charging illegal immigrants with minor, non-violent crimes because these could result in deportation. New York District Attorney Eric Gonzalez of Brooklyn was the first such official to create this dual track for prosecution. According to a statement from his office, the goal is “minimizing collateral immigration consequences of criminal convictions.” 
 
Brooklyn has contracted with two immigration attorneys to train staff members on immigration issues and advise prosecutors when making plea offers and sentencing recommendations. The training is for the purpose of avoiding “disproportionate collateral consequences, such as deportation while maintaining public safety.” Brooklyn District Attorney Gonzalez said nevertheless that he remains committed to equality before the law. 
According to Gonzalez, the new policy actually complements his office’s goal of improving public safety and fairness in the criminal justice system. The previous system, he said, which prosecutes all violators of state crimes equally, illegal or undocumented immigrated faced harsh immigration penalties as a result of criminal convictions, even for minor offenses. “Now more than ever, we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to unintended and severe consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart and destabilize our communities and businesses,” Gonzalez said. “In Brooklyn, we have been proactive in protecting immigrants from fraud and hate crimes and now, with the unprecedented hiring of immigration attorneys and the implementation of this policy, we continue to lead on this important issue.”
 
The new policy in Brooklyn calls for prosecutors to consider “alternative offenses the defendant can plead to as well as reasonable modifications to the sentence recommendation.” For example, the directive says that a plea to a misdemeanor trespass may be offered instead of a misdemeanor drug offense. Illegal aliens may also be offered a plea for a lesser offense “in light of the disproportionate immigration consequences a higher level offense may result in,” according to the new rules. The District Attorney’s office recognizes however, that there “may be times when crafting an immigration-neutral disposition would be very difficult and there may be stumbling blocks that cannot be overcome in certain cases.” The office charged with investigating and prosecuting crimes to improve public safety recognizes, however, that many violent felonies come attached with “inevitable” collateral immigration consequences.
 
The Baltimore Sun newspaper revealed an internal memo from within the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office that told prosecutors to re-think charging illegal immigrants with minor, non-violent crimes in response to the stepped up immigration enforcement by the Trump administration. Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow sent a memo sent to all staff on April 27 that defied Justice Department's deportation efforts that "have increased the potential collateral consequences to certain immigrants of minor, non-violent criminal conduct."
 
"In considering the appropriate disposition of a minor, non-violent criminal case, please be certain to consider those potential consequences to the victim, witnesses, and the defendant," Schatzow wrote.
 
The U.S. Justice Department has made enforcement of immigration laws a priority. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decried the "filth" brought on by drug cartels and narcoterrorists, while he has instructed U.S. attorneys to increase immigration prosecutions. In February, the federal Department of Homeland Security said that any immigrant in the country illegally charged or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority.
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican in Maryland's congressional delegation, said last week that it is "a real shame that the State Attorney's office is unwilling to enforce the law against illegal aliens who commit crimes in the United States."
 
"A vast majority of Americans believe that illegal aliens who commit crimes while here in the U.S. should bear the full brunt of the law, and be deported," Harris said through a spokesperson. While the Justice Department has not commented on the Baltimore memo, last week Sessions denounced district attorneys who he said "openly brag about not charging cases appropriately – giving special treatment to illegal aliens to ensure these criminal aliens aren't deported from their communities.” He added, "They advertise that they will charge a criminal alien with a lesser offense than presumably they would charge a United States citizen. It baffles me."
 
For her part, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) was agnostic about prosecution. She has reassured legal and illegal immigrants that Baltimore is a "welcoming city" that will not seek proof of citizenship. "Mayor Pugh will leave prosecution strategies and tactics to the State's Attorney and her staff," spokesman Anthony McCarthy said in an e-mail to the Baltimore Sun.

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