Foreign-born individuals make up over 22% of the state’s population according to a report by the American Immigration Council. Now, under a bill in the state legislature, that group would be protected from arrest based on their immigration status.

The “Dignity for Immigrants in New York State Act” would prohibit police officers from holding non-citizens for deportation by the feds, unless they’ve been convicted of serious or violent crimes.

Since immigration and customs enforcement can detain illegal immigrants, many do not report crimes or help police, for fear of being thrown out of the country.

In a statement, State Senator Jose Serrano (D – 29th District) says this bill would change that:

“Programs like Secure Communities have created a chilling effect on immigrant populations. Oftentimes immigrants are fearful and hesitant to come forward when they have been victims or witnesses to crimes. We introduced this legislation in 2013 as a way to help foster better relations between immigrants and local law enforcement and to ensure safer neighborhoods. This bill, which does not protect those who have committed violent felonies and certain misdemeanors, is a common-sense response to improving public safety and should be a non-partisan issue on which I hope to build consensus.” 

Opponents cite concerns of public safety and negative effects on the economy.

“New York Democrats won’t be happy until they abandon every basic rule or law that governs our nation and protects our citizens,” said State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. “The sanctuary state proposal is just the latest example of political posturing that should be kept far away from public policy. The liberal mindset is so skewed, that even though New York’s residents and businesses are leaving in droves, they prefer to focus on people who are in America illegally.” 

One local immigration lawyer said even if the bill is passed, he doubts it would hold up if challenged in court.

“The state has no power to force immigration law, they can act as a favor to the feds,” said Anthony Guidice, a Rochester immigration lawyer. 

The bill has been referred to the finance committee.