Last week, New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill sent out a memo on how his department should respond to president Trump’s new immigration executive orders. The note was 431-words long, but could be summarized in just three: This changes nothing.
“It is critical that everyone who comes into contact with the NYPD, regardless of their immigration status, be able to identify themselves or seek assistance without hesitation, anxiety or fear,” O’Neill reminded New York’s finest. “The NYPD does not conduct civil immigration enforcement …For example, the NYPD does not arrest or detain individuals for immigration violations such as overstaying a lawfully issued visa. However, the NYPD does and will continue to honor federal immigration detainers when there is a risk to public safety.”
Since November 2014, the NYPD has refused to enforce administrative warrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, except in cases involving undocumented defendants accused of serious crimes. At the time that policy was enacted, it created relatively little friction with federal authorities — midway through its second term, the Obama administration narrowed ICE’s deportation priorities to felons and recent arrivals.
But the latest guidance from the Trump administration broadens ICE’s priorities to include nearly every undocumented immigrant in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security has instructed immigration enforcement to prioritize the deportation of anyone who engages in “fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter” — a description that fits any undocumented immigrant who has used a fake social security number to qualify for gainful employment.
The NYPD’s disinterest in helping the White House with this project is shared by many other big city police departments.
But it may not be shared by most rank-and-file NYPD officers. On Sunday, the Sergeants Benevolent Association president Ed Mullins discussed the Big Apple’s “sanctuary city” status on Gristedes owner John Catsimatidis’s AM-radio show. Here’s how Mullins summarized his union members’ position on cooperating with ICE (per Gothamist’s transcription):
Make no mistake about it, the members of law enforcement in the NYPD want to cooperate with ICE. I speak to cops every day. They want to cooperate with ICE, they want to work with fellow law enforcement agents…There is a point where there is a moral obligation, and as the chief law enforcement officer of the city, you yourself have to be able to follow the direction of law.
We don’t get to participate in the laws that we want. If that’s the case, then we’re waiving all the federal laws for law enforcement officials — then they can go out and break the law. I mean, that’s total lunacy that something like that could possibly happen.
Here, Mullins argues that it is wrong for police officers to pick and choose which laws to abide by — while also suggesting that cops have a “moral obligation” to aid immigration authorities in defiance of municipal law.
When New York City decided to withhold resources from immigration enforcement, it did not nullify federal immigration law. Rather, it asserted its 10th Amendment right not to be “commandeered” by the federal government into enforcing such laws. Ed Mullins may object to the prevailing interpretation of federal powers on this matter, but when he substitutes his judgement for that of the Supreme Court, he is the one encouraging cops to flout the law.
Whether Mullins truly speaks for the average cop on the beat is unclear. But Donald Trump did enjoy outsize support from law-enforcement groups across the country during his campaign.
And the enthusiasm for the president — and his policies — among rank-and-file law enforcement agents has already led some to pick which Constitutional protections they wish to honor. As Thomas Ricks writes in the New York Times:
[T]here definitely seems to be recklessness in the way ICE is operating. In recent days, its agents have taken a woman with a brain tumor out of a hospital, almost deported a distinguished French scholar flying into Houston to deliver a university lecture and scared the daylights out of an Australian children’s author who vowed after the experience never to visit the United States again.
This isn’t being done solely to foreigners. The son of the boxer Muhammad Ali, a citizen, was questioned upon arriving in Florida from Jamaica about his religion, which would seem to be a clear violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. And passengers on a domestic flight from San Francisco to New York were required to show their identity documents, a violation of the Fourth Amendment and an overreach of ICE’s mission of dealing with entry to the country.
As a wise union representative once said, “If that’s the case, then we’re waiving all the federal laws for law enforcement officials … I mean, that’s total lunacy.”