Zhang Kui, an immigrant from Fujian, China, was asked to assist a New York City Police murder investigation in the Fifth Precinct in Chinatown. According to a report by the Chinese newspaper Singtao Daily, the police later found that Zhang is an undocumented immigrant and reported him to the federal immigrant agency, where he is now facing deportation.
Stories such as Zhang's are causing concern among immigrant rights groups who worry that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's executive order 34, which allows police, city agencies and services to ask people about their immigration status and then report them to the federal authority, will disrupt the lives of more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants in New York City.
Within days of the announcement, groups of immigrant advocacy groups and some public officials took to the streets to protest. Facing so much opposition, Mayor Bloomberg said in July that he is considering changing the order.
"Although the mayor believes on the merits it is a good order, he is considering revising it because of the harm its misconceptions have cause," said Edward Skyler, the mayor's press secretary. While the mayor is revising his new policy, some fear immigrants will continue shunning city services and refusing to cooperate with the police.
"[The new order] will radically change the city's relationship to its millions of immigrant residents," Moises Perez, executive director of Alianza Dominicana, who was in the protest at City Hall, told the Daily News.
In the past, an executive order issued by Mayor Edward Koch barred city employees from reporting undocumented aliens to immigration authorities. But in 1996, Congress passed a law stating that the city cannot forbid their employees from sharing information about an undocumented immigrant to federal agents.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani refused to comply with the law and challenged its legality. In 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the second circuit ruled that Koch's executive order was unconstitutional.
After the September 11 attack, the federal government encouraged local police to work with immigration agencies and allowed them to inquire about the immigration status of suspects. Under the new executive order, police can now report illegal immigrants to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Since the court ruling, city officials have not clarified their policy toward undocumented immigrants. A few weeks before issuing the order, Mayor Bloomberg himself said on his weekly radio show that all undocumented immigrants should be made citizens.
The timing of the new executive order has to do with pressure from Washington to clarify the city's position on reporting illegal immigrants, according to a Daily News report.
As reported in this column two months ago, the City Council is now sponsoring a bill (Intro 326), "Access Without Fear" that would allow immigrants to get access to the city's health and social services without having to worry abut their status.
"In a city that is 40 percent foreign-born, it is essential that [immigrant] communities don't fear accessing city services," said City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, who is the main sponsor of the bill.
An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen.