Our 2019 New York State Legislative Agenda

In preparation for our Advocacy Day on April 30, we’re releasing our agenda.

In preparation for Sanctuary Advocacy Day on April 30, we’re unveiling our 2019 legislative agenda. Tomorrow, we’ll thank State lawmakers in Albany for their support of important bills like the Cyber Sexual Abuse law and the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act which passed earlier this session and urge them to enact additional measures that would offer increased legal protections to survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking and people in prostitution, as well as immigrants who seek assistance from our courts.

Among the key measures on our legislative agenda are:

Rape Shield Law
A.2240 Rosenthal / S.5070 Parker

Sanctuary for Families strongly supports bill A. 2240 / S. 5070 which would expand the rape shield law to include protections for individuals who have a history of trafficking or prostitution. New York’s rape shield law currently protects most victims of sex offenses by limiting introduction of evidence pertaining to the survivor’s sexual history. However, survivors of sex trafficking or prostitution are exempt from these protections. Consequently, survivors of rape or other sexual offenses are at high risk of being portrayed as less credible if they have ever been prostituted or sex trafficked, making it harder to prosecute the offenders.  They are also more likely to suffer greater re-traumatization.

Anywhere from 60% to 90% of people in prostitution are raped, not always by johns or pimps. These survivors should have the same legal protections as other sexual assault survivors.

A.982 Gottfried  / S.3181 Lanza

In 2010, New York State became a national leader when it allowed survivors of trafficking to vacate their prostitution-related convictions.  This law has helped many whose criminal convictions have had devastating consequences on their ability to reintegrate into society.

While laudable, this remedy falls short. Too often, victims of human trafficking are criminally prosecuted for many acts – like drug possession, theft and fraud – that they were forced to commit by abusive pimps. This measure would allow the court to vacate certain convictions under these circumstances. This relief would be life-changing for survivors who continue to bear the burden of a criminal record for acts in which they were compelled to engage.

A.0654 Paulin  / S.2253 Hoylman

Sanctuary for Families strongly supports this measure which would repeal Penal Law § 240.37, Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense.  In their direct work, Sanctuary has seen how this statute has been used as a discriminatory tactic, enforced arbitrarily and targeting marginalized and mostly minority communities at risk of abuse and exploitation. The repercussions of arrest and conviction, even for a seemingly low-level offense, can be devastating. Convictions can prevent an individual from obtaining employment or housing. For immigrant survivors of sex trafficking, even an arrest that is dismissed can negatively impact immigration status, and subject the person to risk of deportation. The current loitering statute causes irreparable harm and its repeal would send a strong signal that New York State values civil rights, dignity and due process.

Protect Our Courts Act
A.02176 Solages / S.00425 Hoylman

This bill would prohibit Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents from making civil arrests in and around New York State courthouses without a judicial warrant or court order.

75% of the gender violence and sex trafficking survivors served at Sanctuary for Families are immigrants who rely on the courts for orders of protection, child custody and other support.  Some are witnesses in criminal cases against their abusers. ICE’s presence in New York’s courthouses and the mere threat of detention and deportation spreads fear and deters many immigrants from seeking the protections that are rightfully theirs.

“New York has been a leader in its response to sex trafficking, gender violence and harsh immigration policies. By passing these measures, we will continue to set the benchmark for other states.  We applaud the effort of Assemblymembers Rosenthal, Gottfried, Paulin and Solages, and Senators Parker, Lanza and Hoylman – and so many of their colleagues for the courage and insight they have shown concerning the needs of gender violence survivors and members of our immigrant communities.  We urge the legislature and Governor Cuomo to make sure these measures become law this session.”

Hon. Judy Kluger
Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families

Sanctuary ED Speaks at “Protect Our Courts” Rally, Urges Bill Passage

Sanctuary Executive Director, Hon. Judy H. Kluger, recently joined advocates for the introduction of State legislation that would limit I.C.E.’s ability to make arrests in and around New York courthouses. Read her remarks.

According to a recent report by the Immigrant Defense Project, I.C.E. arrests inside and around New York courthouses increased by 1700% between 2016 and 2018. Threats of arrest and deportation have deterred an untold number of gender violence survivors from reporting abuse, seeking services, or serving as witnesses in cases.

Sanctuary’s Executive Director, Hon. Judy H. Kluger spoke at a press conference celebrating the introduction of the Protect Our Courts Act — a bill that would make it unlawful for I.C.E. to make a civil arrest while a person is going to, attending, or leaving court unless the officer presents a valid judicial warrant or court order. Read her remarks below:

Thank you, Assemblywoman Solages and State Senator Hoylman, for reintroducing the Protect Our Courts Act.   In the toxic national environment where important legal safeguards for victims of gender violence are being dismantled, New York State has an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen the laws and systems that protect thousands of survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking who live here.

At Sanctuary for Families, 75% of the gender violence survivors we serve are immigrants who rely on the courts for orders of protection, child custody and support. Some are witnesses in criminal cases against their abusers.

The threat of being arrested by ICE in a courthouse forces immigrant victims of gender violence to make the tough choice between their safety and the chance of deportation.  This spreads fear, not justice, and discourages many of our clients from seeking the protections they rightfully deserve.

Recently, one of our clients, originally from Mexico, became terrified of appearing in Bronx Family Court – where she had filed for custody and visitation of her children and two violations of an order of protection against her abusive ex-partner.

She had seen a flyer on the subway warning that ICE agents may be in the courthouse.  First, she had feared her abuser.  Now she feared ICE detaining her in the very place where she was supposed to find safety.

The deputy director of our legal center ended up going with her to every court date.  Because our client testified, her ex-partner received eight weeks in prison. If we had not been able to go with her, she never would have appeared in court, and he would never have been brought to justice.

We cannot let distrust in law enforcement and in our judicial system become the norm. We urge the New York State legislature and Governor Cuomo to make sure the Protect Our Courts Act becomes law in this session and restore the sanctity of our courtrooms as a place where justice can be sought by all without fear.

We also urge the Office of the Court Administration to move forward a rule that would require a federal warrant for immigration agents to arrest undocumented immigrants in state courthouses, adding another layer of protection to our judicial system.

As a former judge, I know the importance of courts as safe havens for all who seek its remedies.  The fair administration of justice depends on it. The threat of ICE interference undermines it.

Read more about what was said here.