The New York State Legislature Introduces Dignity Not Detention Act to End ICE Detention

May 17, 2021, New York 一 Today, the New York State Senate and Assembly introduced the Dignity Not Detention Act, a bill that would end existing and future contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York State. This bill seeks to end the practice of jailing New York immigrants as they face deportation. It will reunite families and communities while also enabling them to more capably fight deportation. This bill was introduced by State Senator Julia Salazar (D18) and Assemblymember Karines Reyes (D87).

The Dignity Not Detention Act comes on the heels of multiple announcements out of New Jersey that local county jails—Essex, Hudson, and Elizabeth—may end their contracts with ICE to detain immigrants and will start depopulating their facility.

Around the country, the call to end immigration detention is loud and clear from states like California, Washington, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois and Virginia which have all passed their own version of state “Dignity Not Detention” laws or introduced legislation in recent years. The time has come for New York to join the chorus of states that have taken a stand against the inhumane and dangerous practice of immigration detention by passing Dignity Not Detention into law.

The New York Dignity Not Detention Act was drafted by the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU Law with assistance from Freedom for Immigrants. 

"The thought of immigrants not being in this jail makes me so happy. I could have easily waited for a decision from immigration at home instead of jail where I became very sick with COVID-19” said Rogelio, a directly impacted person recently released from Orange County Jail. "During my time at Orange County Jail, I saw the guards mix people who had the virus with others who were sent to solitary to quarantine. This is what lead to so many people in detention getting the virus."

“ICE’s harmful practices of separating families and targeting immigrant communities has always been unacceptable, and they must be abolished immediately. The previous federal administration has let ICE continue to run rampant with unchecked authority. The Dignity Not Detention Act is a necessary step for us to take if we hope to truly disassociate ourselves from the previous administrations and bring real justice to the families that have fallen victim to the abusive tactics utilized by ICE. I am truly thankful to my colleague Assembly Member Karines Reyes for cosponsoring this bill in the Assembly, and I look forward to working with her and other advocates to ensure that ICE's authority no longer goes unchecked in our state,” said Senator Julia Salazar, who represents the 18th Senate District.

“I am proud to sponsor the Dignity Not Detention Act in the Assembly which would end the collusion between the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and detention centers in the state that unjustly house immigrants,” said Assembly Member Karines Reyes, R.N. who represents the 87th Assembly District. “I am grateful to my colleague State Senator Julia Salazar for carrying this bill in the Senate. As state legislators, we are obligated to protect our communities from the destructive reach of ICE, and until the federal government abolishes ICE we must do everything in our power to subvert the agency’s abusive authority. This bill serves as the first step of many for the governor and the state legislature to show that they do not support the egregious treatment of immigrants in New York State.”

“An economy based upon the confinement of people for profit is immoral and should be illegal,” said Tania Mattos, Policy and Northeast Monitoring Manager at Freedom for Immigrants. “We look forward to making New York the next state in the union that demands dignity not detention. There is much work to be done, but the introduction of this bill is a step forward in the fight to end our costly, inhumane, and unaccountable detention system.”

“Immigration detention is an extension of the racist U.S. criminal system and should not exist,” said Samah Sisay, Attorney and Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “New York has the opportunity to join the growing national movement to end ICE detention and affirm the dignity and right of immigrants to fight their civil cases in their communities instead of in cages.” 

“The sickness, death, and medical neglect behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed what has long been true: that jails, prisons, and ICE detention centers are unsafe and inhumane places. As we recover from the pandemic, we have a responsibility to address the public health crisis of incarceration,” said Elijah Stevens, an organizer with NYC Democratic Socialists of America, “Passing the Dignity Not Detention Act is a key step toward decarceration in New York.”

"Even in lean times, counties and state agencies should not rely on detaining immigrants to raise revenue,” said Mary Rutigliano, member of the Rochester Rapid Response Network. “The Dignity Not Detention Act lessens the hold that jails and incarceration have on our rural economies. It's one more showing of popular support for ending ICE detention so that individuals can fight their cases at home in community." 

“Every year the U.S. spends over $2 billion in taxpayers’ money in detaining immigrants in over 250 detention facilities. As an abolitionist, my vision is for elected officials to listen to everyone and make reform that does not increase funding, staffing, or legitimacy to prison but works toward freeing everyone,” said Uchechukwu Onwa, Organizing Director with the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP). “The Dignity Not Detention Act is the first step to divesting from prison, to investing in our communities, and to living up to the promise of Lady Liberty, who promises freedom to all who enter. QDEP envisions a world without detention, prison, and jail.”

“We are proud to work along with our community members to end detention in the State of New York. We have long known that all forms of incarceration are inhumane and plague our society as long as it exists,” said Israel Sánchez, Community Organizer with the New York State Youth Leadership Council. “ICE has separated and tormented our communities for far too long, and all the issues present in the detention centers were exacerbated by the pandemic. The introduction and passage of the Dignity Not Detention Act is a first step toward something long overdue, the liberation of all incarcerated people. We must imagine a more just society for all and work toward it together.”

A statement and list of organizations supporting the Dignity Not Detention Act are available here.

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Last modified 

May 17, 2021