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Lancman questions O’Neill on fare evasion impact

Councilman Rory Lancman questioned NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill on whether minor violations could lead to deportation during a Council hearing last week.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Patrick Donachie

Undocumented immigrants convicted of fare evasion are in danger of deportation, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said during a City Council Public Safety Committee hearing last week.

The acknowledgement came during questioning by Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), a member of the committee who has been a fierce critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to Broken Windows policing. Lancman said clarification was all the more urgent due to the policies emanating from the Trump administration.

“The system overwhelmingly impacts people of color,” Lancman said. “I don’t understand the mayor’s refusal to understand the impact this Broken Windows, this quality-of-life policing, has on undocumented immigrants.”

In recent months, Lancman has repeatedly raised concerns about immigrants who could be arrested and convicted for a misdemeanor charge of fare evasion, saying nearly 30,000 New Yorkers were arrested and charged with the offense in 2015. In a letter he wrote to the mayor in late January, Lancman said the de Blasio administration has the authority “to direct the NYPD to process such cases as civil violations of the MTA’s rules (akin to getting a parking ticket), which is not a deportation trigger.”

In the March 30 hearing, Lancman said NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Larry Bryne had previously said that no one would be getting deported for jumping a turnstile, and Lancman pressed O’Neill on whether he would acknowledge that deportation after such a conviction was possible.

“There is a threshold of actually getting arrested, in lieu of a summons for theft of services, for beating the fare,” O’ Neill replied.

“Right, but do you understand if you decide to arrest someone and charge them with the misdemeanor that doing so potentially subjects someone to deportation?” Lancman replied, with the NYPD Commissioner acknowledging that if an individual is charged, fingerprinted and convicted, they become subject to deportation and investigation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Lancman continued pushing for low-level offenses like fare evasion to be treated as a civil matter, taking to Twitter to reiterate what he wrote to de Blasio in the January letter.

“Talk is also cheap when New York City promises to defend the immigrants living among us — our neighbors, friends and family — yet willfully exposes them to deportation, at the dictate of Donald Trump, because minor, nonviolent offenses are criminalized when other, more humane and measured options for holding people accountable are readily available,” Lancman wrote.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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