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Department of Corrections Questioned About Collaboration with ICE at New York City Council Hearing

During a city council hearing on Wednesday, years of emails were made public showing collaboration between some members of the Department of Corrections and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) and Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) were able to obtain dozens of emails between the DOC and ICE spanning from 2015 to 2019 using a Freedom of Information Law request. 

Excerpts of the emails, revealed during questioning by Council member Shahana Hanif, the Chair of the Immigration Committee, disclosed that despite New York City laws limiting DOC collaboration with ICE, DOC has still been cooperating with — and at times going out of their way — to coordinate with immigration authorities.

In a November 2015 email to an ICE official, DOC Captain Deshan Rainey wrote “#teamsendthemback.” In another email from March of 2018, Captain Rainey tells the same ICE official: “You are my BOO FOR REAL!!!!!!!!!!!” Some emails also appeared to show coordination between the two agencies to ease pickups for ICE.

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When questioned by Hanif, Paul Shechtman, the general counsel for the DOC, said he was not familiar with how the DOC operated in relation to ICE in previous years before he began working at the agency in 2022. 

At various times throughout the council hearing, Shechtman said that the DOC does not currently communicate with ICE or facilitate transfers to ICE custody if the individuals in question do not have a qualifying conviction and do not have a match in the terrorist database. In fiscal year 2022, immigration authorities lodged 92 detainers to the City’s DOC, and eight of those individuals were released to federal authorities, Shechtman said. 

“We do not view our job as enforcing immigration laws,” Shechtman said in response to questioning, later adding that some emails cited at the hearing did not appear  “consistent with City law.”

“I don’t know what happened in 2015,” he said. “If that happened, it was inappropriate. It would not happen today.”

But Council member Hanif noted that the corrections officer who sent some of the emails quoted was still employed at the DOC. “They should not have happened,” Hanif said about the emails. “If there’s still emails being sent back and forth that show the xenophobic culture of this department, it is really unfair to our immigrant community.”

Representatives from the NYPD and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs also answered questions at the hearing. The three bills discussed – Intros 158, 184 and 185 – would limit communication with the DOC and ICE, curb the NYPD’s capability to hold individuals on ICE detainers, and allow individuals affected by violations of detainer laws to bring a private right of action in court. 

Various immigrant advocates, attorneys and family members testified about how partnerships between law enforcement agencies in New York City and ICE have affected their communities. 

The case of Aleksy Raspoutny, whose story was covered by THE CITY, became another focal point of the hearing. Raspoutny, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a teenager, was charged with a misdemeanor and taken to ICE custody at a Pennsylvania detention center in September of 2022. He was picked up by ICE when he was at the Manhattan Supreme Court for a routine court appearance, one of his attorneys, Meghna Philip from the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, testified at the hearing. 

Raspoutny is currently being held at Rikers back in DOC custody, but is concerned that he will be transferred back to ICE custody and potentially deported when he finishes his time there. “This is exactly why the loopholes in the detainer laws must be closed. And Mr. Raspoutny, as it stands now, has no way to seek redress for the violations of the detainer laws that occurred,” Philip said. “These rights without remedies are not rights at all.”

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