Kings County Criminal Bar Association president wants other DAs to follow Gonzalez’s lead on immigration
Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced a new policy on Monday that aims to help keep immigrants from being deported if they are arrested on certain low-level and misdemeanor crimes in Brooklyn, a decision that the borough’s criminal bar association says it supports.
“Any action that seeks to make outcomes in criminal cases more fair and just by taking into consideration all of the consequences of a conviction, including immigration consequences, is a step in the right direction that all DA’s offices in the city should take notice of and follow [Acting] DA Gonzalez’s lead,” said Michael Cibella, president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association (KCCBA).
As was reported in the Brooklyn Eagle back in January, the acting DA officially announced that he hired two immigration attorneys who will train his staff on immigration issues. They will advise prosecutors on plea offers and sentencing recommendations on cases in which non-citizens have been arrested on low-level charges to keep them from being deported.
“I am committed to equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents — citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants alike,” Acting DA Gonzalez said in a statement. “Now more than ever, we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to unintended and severe consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart and destabilize our communities and businesses.”
Gonzalez explained that this move is an effort to keep Brooklyn’s many immigrant communities comfortable with law enforcement so that they will continue to report crimes and testify at trials.
“I want to emphasize that our office is not seeking to frustrate the federal government’s function of protecting our country by removing non-citizens whose illegal acts have caused real harm and endangered others,” Gonzalez said. “Rather, our goal is to enhance public safety and fairness in the criminal justice system and this policy complements — but does not compromise — this goal.
“We will not stop prosecuting crimes, but we are determined to see that case outcomes are proportionate to the offense as well as fair and just for everyone.”
The announcement has been met with many critics, including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. However, these would only be for low-level, non-violent cases and, as Cibella explained, this is a move that defense attorneys have long pushed for.
“Hiring immigration attorneys to counsel assistant prosecutors and confirm what we as defense attorneys are often telling prosecutors when negotiating an appropriate disposition will lead to quicker and fairer resolutions,” Cibella said.
The acting DA hopes that the new policy will keep immigrants from facing harsh immigration penalties for minor offenses. Even lawful residents, like green-card holders and students, can face deportation and other negative effects on applications for permanent residency or citizenship.
There are no guidelines set out in the new policy. Instead, prosecutors are instructed to make determinations on a case by case basis. They are expected to know of possible immigration consequences and are also instructed to make appropriate plea offers or sentencing recommendations after trial. Prosecutors may also consider alternative offenses that defendants can plead to as well as modified sentences.
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