N.Y. legislation will add deportation threats to coercion law

Originally published in New York Daily News

ALBANY —New York lawmakers want to make it a crime to threaten someone’s immigration status.

A measure slated to pass the Assembly this week would guard immigrants against the threat of deportation from employers, landlords or abusive partners who attempt to coerce or extort them.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages (D-Nassau County), would add deportation proceedings to a list of blackmail threats criminalized by law.

“The threat of deportation is very serious to undocumented immigrants, which makes them particularly vulnerable to extortion or coercion,” Solages said. “Too often, that vulnerability is exploited by unscrupulous actors. This legislation would protect these individuals and their families from having their immigration status used as leverage against them.”

Officials in the city already stepped up fines and guidelines that bar threatening to call immigration authorities on others back in 2019 in response to increased arrests and the Trump administration’s encouraging Americans to report undocumented workers to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In 2019, the NYC Commission on Human Rights jacked up penalties for using the term “illegal alien” or threatening to call ICE on someone if motivated by discrimination. Violations can lead to a $250,000 fine.

Similar measures are already on the books in California, Colorado, Maryland and Virginia.

In 2017, California enacted the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, which prevents landlords from reporting or threatening to report tenants’ immigration status to authorities in an attempt to harass them or to force an eviction.

Under the current law in New York, it is illegal to extort or coerce someone with the threat of criminal charges. Threatening to report someone’s immigration status or deport them in order to force them to do or not do something is not covered under the law. Solages’ bill, sponsored by Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Nassau County) in the Senate, would amend the law to include threats of deportation.

“Our immigrant communities face significant challenges and the Assembly Majority has always been committed to protecting them,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).

“Deportation proceedings have very real and serious consequences, and that is why we must ensure that people are not able to exploit a person’s situation for personal gain.”