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Assembly Democrats Push For New York As A ‘Sanctuary State’

Hans Pennink
Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Queens, center, speaks about proposed legislation on immigration reform as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, right, and other Assembly members listen during a news conference at the Capitol on Monday.

The New York Assembly moved Monday to establish New York as a “sanctuary state,” but the measure faces an uncertain future in the state Senate.

Assembly Democrats are backing measures that would give the entire state of New York sanctuary status for immigrants. One bill would prohibit state and local law enforcement from questioning or arresting a person based on their perceived immigration status, or any suspected violation of federal immigration law. Another would ensure that people are not unnecessarily questioned about their immigration status when seeking state or local government services. State and local government agencies would also have to keep the immigration status of clients private. People who are threatened with deportation would have an automatic right to legal representation.  

Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Queens, is the sponsor of many of the bills, which he says are needed more than ever with President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. It bars travel to the U.S. for people from seven majority Muslim countries, although it’s currently held up in court.

Assembly Democrats are calling the measures the Liberty Act.  

“Nowhere should the philosophy inscribed in the Statue of Liberty be more pronounced than in the laws of the state in which she sits,” Moya said.  

Assembly Democrats also once again approved the Dream Act, which provides college tuition aid to children of undocumented immigrants. They rallied in the Capitol’s historic million dollar staircase. Zuleima Dominguez, who attends CUNY’s Hunter College, came to the U.S. at the age of 7.

“It’s been extremely hard,” Dominguez said.

The measures are unlikely to pass in the state Senate, which is led by Republicans and a group of breakaway Democrats. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says he’s not giving up though.

“We hope that the good conscience of the Senate will do the right thing,” Heastie said.  

But Assembly Republicans, in floor debate, portrayed the bills as being to the left of policies of former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, R-Brooklyn, Staten Island, says the measures put “illegals before law abiding citizens,” and would require state and local officials to, in some cases, “violate federal law.”

“To sit here and debate for hours, legislation that would protect individuals who are here illegally and coming crimes is really, frankly, I don’t believe what our constituents are sending us here to do,” Malliotakis said.

The state of California, where Democrats control all branches of government, is also moving toward establishing sanctuary status, despite threats from President Trump that the state would lose federal funding.

Assemblyman Al Graf, a Republican from Long Island, worried about the defunding warnings, saying it’s like “playing chicken with a semi.”

“I think this is a mistake, it’s political theatrics,” Graf said.  

Governor Cuomo was at the Capitol, but did not appear in public. A spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for reaction on the sanctuary status bills.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.