New law criminalizes threats to undocumented immigrants

Originally published in Spectrum News on October 11, 2021.

A measure criminalizing threats in New York to expose a person's immigration status was signed into law this weekend by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The new law considers threats to expose undocumented people in the state as extortion or coercion, and is based on similar measures already on the books in California, Colorado, Maryland and Virginia.

It's already illegal to threaten to expose a person's immigration status in labor trafficking or sex trafficking cases, but had not been previously considered as extortion or coercion offenses.

"New York is built on the hard work and determination of generations of immigrants, and we need to support people who are trying to build better lives for themselves and their families," Governor Hochul said. "This legislation will protect New Yorkers from bad actors who use extortion or coercion due to their immigration status, and make our state safer against vile threats and intimidation."

The measure is meant to allow prosecutors to take on blackmail cases when a person is threatened with deportation, even when the larger case does not relate to sex trafficking or labor cases.

"For an undocumented immigrant who fled danger in their home country, being reported to ICE can be a death sentence, yet sadly, far too many people are willing to take advantage of our more vulnerable neighbors by threatening to reveal their immigration status in order to exploit them in some way," said Sen. Anna Kaplan, the bill's sponsor in the state Senate. "By enacting this long-overdue measure, we're updating the laws on extortion and coercion to ensure that immigrant New Yorkers aren't left vulnerable to such vile threats."

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, the sponsor in the Assembly, called the measure a "critical reform" to protecting the undocumented community in the state.

"This legislation breaks new ground in New York's ongoing efforts to protect undocumented immigrants, who can be some of our state's most vulnerable residents," she said.