City Bar Urges Mayor to Instruct Police to Use Citations Instead of Arrests for Low-Level Offenses to Protect Immigrants from Deportation

In a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Bar Association urges him to protect immigrant New Yorkers from deportation by instructing the New York City Police Department, when there is no immediate threat to public safety, to issue civil citations for nonviolent, low-level offenses instead of making arrests.

Signed by the City Bar’s Civil Rights Committee, Immigration & Nationality Law Committee, and Criminal Courts Committee, the letter applauds the many steps the Mayor has taken to support immigrant New Yorkers, but adds that “[i]nstructing the NYPD to issue civil citations, whenever there is no immediate threat to public safety, instead of making arrests for low-level offenses will protect our immigrant neighbors, support the NYPD’s efforts to make this city safe, and strengthen the fabric of our city.”

Referencing President Trump’s Executive Order prioritizing the removal not only of immigrants who have been convicted of any criminal offense but those who have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved, and those who have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense, the letter raises several concerns that the Administration’s orders “particularly endanger immigrants who have come in contact with the criminal justice system.”

Despite the important steps taken to distance the NYPD from federal immigration enforcement, the letter cautions that arresting immigrants in New York for low-level offenses renders immigrant communities vulnerable, because, “[e]ven though the city does not honor ICE detainers, each new arrest flags an immigrant for federal immigration enforcement.” This is so, the letter explains, “because the NYPD fingerprints each person they have arrested (in contrast to those persons issued a civil citation, who are not fingerprinted), then shares those fingerprints with the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Statistics, which in turn shares them with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI then shares the fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE. So even if the NYPD later voids an arrest or a prosecutor declines to press charges, arrests still flag immigrants for federal immigration enforcement and place New Yorkers in danger of deportation.”

To support its recommendation, the letter points to a report of the NYPD’s Inspector General last year concluding that “there was no empirical evidence linking low-level arrests to crime reduction.” Further evidence shows that people of color are disproportionately targeted for low-level arrests. The letter goes on to state that, “Issuing civil citations in place of arrests is a smarter solution that addresses low-level offenses without endangering immigrant New Yorkers or further driving a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they have sworn to serve and protect.”

While the City Council’s Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) urged the police to use civil citations whenever possible, the use of these citations remains discretionary even in situations when there is no threat to public safety, e.g., in cases involving violations like fare evasion or public drinking. “Guidelines regarding the use of civil citations are still being developed regarding this subset of non-violent, low-level offenses ahead of a June 2017 deadline. We urge you to take this opportunity to provide the NYPD with additional guidelines regarding the enforcement of non-violent, low-level offenses that are both covered and not covered by the CJRA,” states the letter.                                     

The letter can be read here:

About the Association

The New York City Bar Association, (, since its founding in 1870, has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the legal profession, promoting reform of the law and access to justice, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association, through its 24,000 members, continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.