The New York City public advocate has a number of jobs, including acting as a non-voting, citywide member of the City Council, being first in the line of succession for mayor and investigating the effectiveness of city services and the issues of citizen complaints.
Last week, Public Advocate Letitia James took on yet another role: educating people on how to stand against President Trump.
In a speech to the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, James spoke about real-life actions Americans can take in responding to the policies of a Republican-controlled Congress and a Trump presidency.
A the start of her speech, James focused on what it meant to be a sanctuary city, and how cities like New York, which is a sanctuary city, operate under federal law.
“The definition of sanctuary cities is also to offer social services with individuals regardless of their citizenship, and we can do that because the Equal Rights Amendment basically says we treat individuals—whether you are documented immigrants or not—as equals,” she said. “We as a state and as a jurisdiction and as an individual city, basically our position is [that] individuals who are arrested with non-violent offenses, will we not cooperate with ICE and they will be detained in our correctional facilities.”
James went on to discuss an executive order issued by Trump, mandating that undocumented immigrants who charged with non-violent offenses be deported.
“Just a basic charge, without due process, without a hearing without a trial, without a conviction, you will be deported,” she said. “So if you jump a turnstile, which is, under legal parlance, theft of services, and you happen to be detained by the police… right now if immigration seeks information we don’t cooperate.”
James also asserted that the only federal funds New York City would lose as a result of being a sanctuary city would only come from Homeland Security budgets. The text of Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities, however, states that all funds “except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General,” are liable to be taken away from the city.
James argued, though, that it didn’t matter which funds would be taken away, since the federal government, in her view, did not have legal grounds to follow through on the action.
She cited the 2012 Supreme Court case in which the court concluded that the federal government must allow individual states to opt out of expanding Medicaid without being penalized.
“If President Trump were to penalize us, our argument would be that the nexus between failing to cooperate with ICE and the loss of any federal money… we cannot be penalized for failing to cooperate with the federal government because of federalism and because we are a sovereign state,” she said.
James also called for people to volunteer as lawyers for immigrants facing deportation, and told the story of a recent case she won, where she defended an El Salvadorian teen, who had been orphaned and targeted by gangs for being gay before coming to the United States.
“He came to this country and I represented him,” James said. “He just turned 18, he’s doing great, he lives in Brooklyn... I am trying to get many attorneys in the state of New York to represent individuals.”