CIVIC CENTER — A routine arrest for hopping a turnstile could make immigrant New Yorkers — even those with legal residency papers — vulnerable to deportation, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill acknowledged Thursday, according to Politico.
The comments, made while O'Neill was testifying before the City Council about the department’s preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2018, were a departure from previous statements in which top NYPD officials told reporters that no New Yorker will be deported for such a minor crime.
In February, Larry Byrne, the department’s deputy commissioner for legal affairs told reporters that “no one is getting deported for a minor offense,” and one City Hall spokesman repeatedly dismissed questions about the issue as “hypothetical.”
O’Neill made the comments in response to a question from Councilman Rory Lancman, who has sparred with City Hall on the issue in recent weeks.
“Do you understand that getting convicted for penal law misdemeanor theft of service can make someone subject to deportation, even a legal immigrant?” Lancman asked, according to Politico.
“Yes,” O’Neill replied.
Still, O’Neill returned to insisting that a low-level arrest will not directly result in someone being turned over to ICE when asked about his comments at a police promotion ceremony Friday.
"We've been consistent in saying that the NYPD would continue to enforce the New York State law against fare evasion in the subways,” O'Neill said. “If you get arrested for that crime, you will not be deported due to that arrest, as we've spoken about at length."
Molly Kovel, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said O'Neill's comments reveal an important distinction: while the NYPD will not hand defendants over to ICE for minor charges — theres a list of more serious charges that will trigger cooperation with ICE — and will not take part in the civil enforcement of federal immigration laws, actions taken by the NYPD can impact an immigrant’s status even though police may not be physically turning someone over to immigration authorities.
“Both media and policy makers have been conflating those two categories,” Kovel said. “It’s confusing and can be easy to conflate things, but it’s important to keep these things distinct. When we talk about making someone deportable, we’re not talking about literally handing them over to ICE for deportation.”
Under President Donald Trump's new guidelines published in February, any immigrant charged with a crime is now labeled a “removable alien” and prioritized for deportation. ICE agents have been more aggressive about removing suspects, according to advocates and reports, detaining immigrants in courthouses and other sites.
“Immigration law imposes very severe consequences on people — even if they have lived most of their lives here — for a single turnstile jump,” said Jordan Wells, an attorney with the NYCLU.