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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

You're on an older version of the site, please click here to view the current site

Internet resources for what you need to know about NYC Immigrants
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
Immigrants are foreign-born people and their families who enter the United States and settle. This is a catch-all phrase that usually includes everybody from the U.S-born children of foreigners to naturalized citizens to the undocumented.
The Context
New York owes much of its growth and character to its traditional role as the point of entry and settlement for immigrants from all over the world. The city may now be experiencing the largest wave of immigration in its history, with immigrants and their children making up to as much as 60 percent of the city's population. Most of today's immigrants come from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the former Soviet Union and are, for the most part, younger and darker than immigrants from the past. While the federal government sets overall immigration policy, state and local policy directly affects immigrants on a wide range of issues, from education to health care to political representation.
The Reporter
An immigrant from Bangkok, Thailand, Chaleampon Ritthichai is the editor of The Citizen.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Immigration.

By Chaleampon Ritthichai

Local Police And Immigration Law

A typical day at work for Bobby Khan at the Coney Island Avenue Project involves listening to stories about immigrants who have been harassed, arrested or detained.

"Last week in Midwood, Brooklyn, a guy named Malik Muhamad was stopped by police officers while walking back from work," Khan said. " They asked him about his immigration status but he refused to answer. So they beat him."

Stories such as this have led Khan to believe that tension between police and immigrants in New York City is at its worst.

A local police officer can now ask immigrants about their status and in effect deport them on a visa violation. As part of the war on terror, this past August for the first time the federal government allowed local police to enforce immigration law.

"There is greater racial profiling today, and it goes beyond just the Black and Latino communities to include Muslims, Arabs and South Asians and other immigrants." said Steven Yip, a member of October 22nd Coalition. "Since September 11, the police are more bold."

Because of strong criticism from immigrant communities, The New York City Pol ice Department issued a statement saying that "The NYPD works cooperatively with the INS and other federal agencies to locate and apprehend criminal aliens.... However, the NYPD does not and will not enforce civil violations of immigration laws."

But immigrant advocates said that this is not actually the case. "They have asked people about immigration status, for no particular reason," said Saurav Sarkar of Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, an organization that represents some detainees,

The U.S. government has interviewed and detained thousands of Arab and South Asian immigrants since 9/11. None have been charged with crimes related to the attack, but are being held indefinitely as material witnesses.

According to a report by the Daily News, last December the police department participated in interviews with 86 visa holders from the Middle East and South Asia. "As a result of these interviews, they have been incarcerated, many of them without access to legal counsel," said Abdeen Jabarra of the Center for Constitutional Rights

So far Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not expressed his position on using the local police force as an extension of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But an executive order in place since the Koch administration forbids the police department from checking immigration status of crime victims, people seeking assistance, or those coming forward as witnesses.

Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Sayu Bhojwani has said that the Bloomberg administration is exploring ways to keep that order in place without interfering with the federal law.

In the City Council Queens Councilmember Hiram Monerrate introduced last May a resolution with a similar goal, but nothing further has been done since.

While public officials were figuring out what to do, immigrant groups took to the streets. In October, more than a dozen immigrant groups marched from Union Square to City Hall to protest racial profiling by the police. The protest was repeated in November.

"If you ask the Arabs, Muslims and South Asians in this city what's the difference between the NYPD, the FBI and the INS," Refat Doza of Desis Rising Up & Moving, said to the crowd. "They'll tell you, nothing. They're all the same."

Five Favorite Sites For Beginners:

  • Immigration and Naturalization Service, the federal agency (within the United States Department of Justice) that provides services to immigrants (answering questions, processing applications for visas and for citizenship, etc.) and at the same time enforces the nation's immigration laws. INS also has a New York City district office and the New York Asylum Office
  • The New York City Mayor's Office Of Immigrant Affairs and Language Services, assists immigrants in a range of services and information. Here you can link to information about, for example, the New York Police Department New Immigrant Unit, where specially trained police officers conduct sensitivity training in the precincts and at the police academy, lecture at meetings of immigrant groups and work with the ethnic media. (212) 374-5112
  • Citizenship NYC, a city program, assists immigrant recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and federal food stamps to become citizens. (888) 374-5100
  • New York Immigration Hotline - open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday and providing free and confidential information in 15 languages (Arabic, Bengali, French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu) about everything from immigration law to employment discrimination to health referrals to a list of non-profit agencies that assist immigrants. (718) 899-4000
  • National Immigration Forum, a national pro-immigration advocacy group, with a rundown of facts about immigration, current issues, useful links.
  • Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolitan Area, published by The Jewish Genealogical Society, for those wishing to do research on their immigrant ancestors.

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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