An effort to give New Yorkers more protections when they seek out city services has hit a wall with the Bloomberg administration.
More than thirty City Council members are campaigning to revive and expand Executive Order No. 124, which Mayor Ed Koch enacted in 1989 to prohibit city employees from sharing a person’s immigration status with federal authorities.
“The city needs to provide confidentiality protections for its residents,” said Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, who first introduced the “Access Without Fear” bill in December and convened a public hearing on it last week.
And, he and his fellow cosponsors add, the law needs to do more than protect immigration status. The bill also calls for covering sexual orientation and health and disability status. “Without the assurance that such information will be kept confidential, it will be difficult for the city to perform certain essential functions,” says the legislation.
The fight is not an easy one. Koch’s executive order remained in effect until 1996, when Congress passed two laws forbidding municipalities from withholding immigration information. Giuliani took the feds to court, and lost, but in his decision, the judge implied that a broader confidentiality policy could work. So the mayor put the issue to the voters, and in 2001, a ballot referendum passed calling for a new confidentiality policy.
Then September 11 happened, and two years later, there are still no formal protections on the books.
And the Bloomberg administration says federal law requires that things stay that way. “Intro. 326 is illegal in its policy ramifications,” said Sayu Bhojwani, director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, at a City Council hearing last week, noting that the 1996 laws prohibit the city from withholding such information. “The bill needs to be examined further.”
Still, the council members and a number of groups supporting the legislation, including the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, are hopeful they can make the bill veto-proof. With 33 co-sponsors, the committee on governmental operations will hold one more hearing before voting on the bill.
Said Monserrate, “We would like to hope that this mayor will sign this bill, if he cares about people’s confidentiality.”