Gotham Gazette

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Key Protections for Black, Brown, Immigrant, and Poor New Yorkers Await Governor Cuomo’s Signature

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Gov. Cuomo signing legislation (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

This summer, New Yorkers statewide simultaneously reckoned with the new reality of COVID-19 and the persistent reality of systemic racist violence. The state Legislature heard the calls from millions in the streets and passed vital legislation during an emergency session that protects the communities most vulnerable to these twin threats. 

The State Senate and Assembly passed bills that would keep ICE out of New York’s courts and their eyes off COVID-19 contact-tracing information, a bill that would end the practice of suspending a driver’s license over traffic fines, and another that would move incarcerated parents to a prison closer to their children. 

Together these four bills provide urgent protections to Black, brown, immigrant, and poor  communities that have been hardest hit by this economic and health crisis. 

But while the Legislature took decisive action this summer, we are still waiting on action from Governor Cuomo. Now, four months after the bills passed, he has not signed them into law. Our communities can wait no longer. 

Immediate action by the governor is even more critical as we face a second wave of COVID-19. Communities of color and immigrant New Yorkers continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus and the ongoing economic fallout. We need to protect the rights of all New Yorkers—public health depends on it.

The Protect Our Courts Act would ensure equal access for immigrants to state courts by preventing warrantless arrests by ICE targeting people simply attending court. As we celebrate essential workers—many of whom are immigrants—we must provide protections for immigrant New Yorkers traveling to, from, or attending court. ICE’s practices before and during the pandemic show that they have little regard for public safety—COVID-19 rates have exploded at detention centers across the state and the country.  

Contact tracing remains an important public health tool for stopping the spread of COVID-19 and keeping New Yorkers safe. But our current contact-tracing efforts are failing, in part because New Yorkers are rightfully concerned that our information will not be kept confidential. The solution awaits the governor’s signature. The Contact Tracing Confidentiality Act would prohibit police or immigration enforcement from having access to contact tracing information and ensure that contact tracing information cannot be used against us in court or administrative proceedings. It would also protect the confidentiality of contact tracing data and limit its use to public health purposes.

Essential workers have been called to the frontlines, but they are also one of the populations most at risk for traffic debt. The Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act would end New York’s cruel practice of suspending a person’s driver’s license if they cannot afford a traffic ticket, a practice that disproportionately impacts Black and brown New York communities—which, not coincidentally, are the communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

The pandemic has placed a huge strain on families with incarcerated loved ones, and visiting is hard enough without travelling hundreds of miles. The Proximity Bill would require the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to move incarcerated parents to the New York State prison closest to their children after security level, health, and programming needs are met.

New Yorkers face a winter of tough choices. Governor Cuomo, though, has an easy one before him: sign these bills the Legislature passed months ago or do nothing and withhold protections from Black, Brown, poor, and immigrant communities, who have been the hardest hit by the health and economic fallout of the pandemic. 

Governor Cuomo's support for essential workers and communities of color on these issues is long overdue. All he needs to do is pick up his pen.

Marvin Mayfield is the Statewide Organizer at Center for Community Alternatives. Alice Fontier is the Managing Director at the Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem. Whitney Hollins is an advisor to the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents. Mizue Aizeki is the Interim Executive Director of the Immigrant Defense Project. Antonya Jeffrey is the New York State Deputy Director for the Fines and Fees Justice Center.

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