Larry Byrne, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner for legal affairs, told reporters on Friday that non-citizen New Yorkers will not be deported from the United States over minor offenses. "Nobody is getting deported for jumping a turnstile," he said.
The statement is false, as the NYPD arrests turnstile jumpers regularly—2,000 such arrests were reportedly made just last month—channeling arrestees into a database accessible to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A turnstile jumping conviction is also a deportable offense. Any two convictions "involving moral turpitude"—turnstile jumping, petty theft—qualify a green card holder for deportation.
"The Immigration and Nationality Act imposes a severe, outsize penalty on people who are convicted of low-level offenses," New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Jordan Wells told Gothamist. "You can be a lawful permanent resident and have built your entire life in the US and you can be deported on a minor drug charge."
In making his case Friday, Byrne reiterated the NYPD's policy on cooperating with ICE: police will not detain a New Yorker on ICE's behalf unless he or she has committed one of 170 "violent or serious" felonies or is on a terrorism watch list. Turnstile jumping falls well outside this category. But attorneys and advocates for immigrants have pointed out that ICE enforcement is not predicated on NYPD cooperation.
"The NYPD may not be assisting in the deportation, but people do get deported for theft of service," Legal Aid supervising immigration law attorney Ward Oliver told Gothamist.
"If you get arrested, you are fingerprinted," he added. "And once you're diverted into the criminal justice system, you're on [ICE's] radar."
New Department of Homeland Security memoranda released earlier this week prioritize for deportation anyone who is in the country illegally; arrest, not necessarily conviction, justifies ICE intervention under President Donald Trump's guidelines.
Byrne apparently understands this, though his comments appear to be designed to shift responsibility for serious turnstile jumping consequences from the NYPD to the federal government. During the same press conference he said that, "ICE and other federal agencies have authority to enforce those warrants completely independent of the NYPD and they don't have to consult with us before they do that."
NYPD spokesman J. Peter Donald said Saturday that the NYPD stood behind Byrne's remarks.
Larry Byrne sets the record straight: Turnstile jumping won't get you deported, despite what advocates claim https://t.co/7S00xLocXE
— J. Peter Donald (@JPeterDonald) February 24, 2017
Byrne also described circumstances Friday under which a turnstile jumper would be issued a civil summons, rather than a criminal summons, and therefore not be fingerprinted. "Our policy is, if you jump a turnstile, unless you are a transit recidivist, you don't even get a criminal summons," Byrne said. "You get a civil summons... where you are not fingerprinted and that does not go into any criminal system."
According to NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox, 73 percent of people stopped for fair evasion are issued a summons and not arrested.
“Although a civil violation of the administrative code may not have direct immigration consequences, the fact that many people are arrested each year, rather than issued civil summons, indicates that the danger of deportation is quite real," Oliver said.
Queens City Council Member Rory Lancman held a press conference earlier this week, urging Mayor de Blasio to acknowledge a link between broken windows policing and ICE intervention for all non-citizens. He criticized Byrne on Friday, tweeting out a screen grab of a 2003 Board of Immigration Appeals case in which a person was deported for turnstile jumping.
— (((Rory Lancman))) (@RoryLancman) February 24, 2017
"This is not something that's subject to opinion, like chocolate is more delicious than vanilla," Lancman said on Friday afternoon. "It is a legal fact that theft of services is a crime of moral turpitude under federal immigration law, and can be the basis for deportation."
Lancman has urged Mayor de Blasio to move all low-level, nonviolent quality of life offenses from the criminal code to the civil code. Though the City Council passed legislation to this effect last spring, beat cops still have discretion, and can choose to issue a criminal summons if they see fit.
Some advocates say this shift to civil court would not go far enough to protect vulnerable communities.
"Civil court dates can be publicly available, too," argued activist Josmar Trujillo of the Coalition to End Broken Windows. "Nothing is going to keep ICE from lurking at civil court. This government has made it clear that they are going to use every trick in the book."
Lancman dismissed the criticism on Friday. "People are being deported today, and we cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good," he said.
Trujillo held firm. "We need to keep our people safe from the system, and the NYPD and the mayor are telling us to trust the system," he said.
The Mayor's Office declined to comment for this story, but spokesman Austin Finan upheld the NYPD's position earlier this week.