BROOKLYN — The Brooklyn District Attorney announced Monday that his office would begin consulting immigration attorneys any time prosecutors charge undocumented New Yorkers with low-level crimes in an effort to avoid deportations.
Acting DA Eric Gonzalez said he hired two immigration lawyers who would review all cases involving undocumented residents, with a focus on non-violent felonies and low-level offenses, to see if any charges will have adverse effects on their immigration situations, his office said.
"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," said Gonzalez, who is running for election this fall after his predecessor, Ken Thompson, died in October following a battle with cancer.
“I am committed to equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents — citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants alike."
Certain low-level crimes, like possession of marijuana and petit larceny, are automatically considered deportable offenses by the federal government.
In those cases, the DA's office would work with defense attorneys to encourage New Yorkers to plead guilty to different charges — like trespassing or unauthorized use of a vehicle — that carry similar punishments but don't result in immigration consequences, officials said.
Perpetrators of violent felonies will also be reviewed, though deportations in those cases are often unavoidable, Brooklyn DA spokesman Oren Yaniv said.
The new policy would have helped defendants like a Jamaican woman who moved to the U.S. in 1988 when she was 3 years old, married a U.S. citizen in 2006 and gave birth to a baby girl in 2010.
After shoplifting at a Marshalls store, she pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct and grand larceny in 2006, Yaniv explained.
Because grand larceny is considered a crime of "moral turpitude," Immigration and Customs Enforcement began deportation proceedings against the woman in 2012, he said.
The DA's office couldn't immediately confirm if the woman had in fact been deported. They identified her only as "R.R."
The U.S. Department of Justice — headed up by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who last week called New York City "soft on crime" — didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jordan Wells, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said Gonzalez's move helps "pull back the veil from the myth that deportation is not itself some kind of punishment."
"Across the board, immigration consequences are disproportionately harsh. Something that would be a slap on the wrist New York-wise becomes a knockout punch immigration-wise because its so much more severe," Wells explained.
"[It's a] step towards equivalent outcomes for non-citizens and citizens."