The country’s top immigration official blamed the “sanctuary policies” of New York City on Friday for the sexual assault and killing of a 92-year-old Queens woman, while the mayor’s office decried such rhetoric as “fear, hate and attempts to divide.”
Matthew Albence, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at a news conference Friday that the slaying of Maria Fuertes could have been prevented if city officials had complied with a federal request to turn over the assailant, a Guyanese national, for deportation.
“It’s unbelievable that I have to come here and plead with the city of New York to cooperate with us to help keep this city safe,” Albence said.
“Make no mistake,” he added. “It is this city’s sanctuary policies that are the sole reason this criminal was allowed to roam the streets freely and end an innocent woman’s life.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio has accused ICE of “spreading lies” and employing “scare tactics” that destroy trust in law enforcement. He said on Twitter this week that the city has passed “common-sense laws about immigration enforcement that have driven crime to record lows.”
“The death of Maria Fuertes was an absolute tragedy and we are mourning her family’s loss. Fear, hate and attempts to divide are signatures of the Trump Administration, not New York City,” de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said Friday. “We are the safest big city in America because of our policies, not in spite of them. We must band together as New Yorkers and reject these lies."
The remarks come amid an escalation of the conflict between the Trump administration and so-called sanctuary cities, and a week after the Guyanese man wanted for deportation was charged with sexually assaulting and killing the 92-year-old woman in Queens.
Reeaz Khan, 21, had been arrested in November on earlier charges of assault and criminal possession of a weapon, having allegedly beaten up his father and stabbing him with a coffee cup. He was released after his arraignment even though immigration officials said they filed a “detainer” request with the New York City Police Department asking that Khan be handed over for deportation.
New York City police say they didn’t get the request, though ICE insists it was sent. But even if they did, under the terms of New York’s local ordinance governing how the police work with immigration officials, they would not have turned over information on Khan because he was not convicted of a violent and serious crime — a requirement under the city's sanctuary city policy.
"Should he beat up his mother too? Should he kick the dog? How much more do you need to take an enforcement action against an illegal alien," Albence asked defiantly.
Albence said ICE is considering expanding its use of “administrative subpoenas” to law enforcement agencies around the country that do not share information like the addresses, driver’s license and passport numbers about undocumented residents who come through their local jails.
ICE subpoenaed Denver this week seeking information on three Mexican nationals and one Honduran who had been in custody there. The city declined the request, saying it could be “viewed as an effort to intimidate officers into help enforcing civil immigration law.”
“These subpoenas are an attempt to at least defray some of the damage that is being done by these sanctuary policies,” Albence told the New York news conference. “I suspect that we’ll start utilizing them much more broadly.”
Here in New York, the city's police department has resisted deputizing their officers to help federal immigration authorities detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
The NYPD says from 2018 (when the sanctuary city policy took effect) to 2019, the department received 2,916 detainers and handed over seven convicted of serious crimes to ICE.
During the Bloomberg administration in 2013, the department received 2,635 detainer requested and handed over 196.