The man you see (indistinctly) in the photo above is Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who spoke before a packed crowd at the Women’s National Republican Club last night on a variety of subjects. Although the invitation I responded to billed the evening as a discussion of sanctuary cities, Vance did not address the topic until prompted by an audience member during the question and answer session, approximately 40 minutes or so after he began speaking.
I can’t say I was surprised by his reluctance to address the subject, despite its topicality. The New York County District Attorney’s office is charged with the prosecution of those who violate the laws of New York State. Those who violate federal law are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York-a point Mr. Vance emphasized when I pressed him on a recent decision to release a violent, self-declared member of MS-13 who was in this country illegally from prison.
That said, his office does occasionally come into contact with illegal immigrants through their encounters with the New York Police Department, which he implicitly acknowledged when he spoke of protecting the status of those who had been victims of crimes while residing in this country illegally. Putting aside the circular logic of this argument, i.e. aren’t predatory criminal aliens, such as the illegal day laborer who murdered acclaimed actress and director Adrienne Shelly, protected under the same umbrella sheltering domestic abuse victims, there is another objection to be raised. Namely, there is already a federal program, known as the U Visa, which ostensibly protects these individuals.
The idea that New York City needs to codify policy which directly conflicts with federal law in order to protect the safety of those in this country illegally is the height of absurdity. To the contrary, these directives actually imperil the lives and safety of those they ostensibly seek to protect-as well as the lives of American citizens-as those criminal aliens who abuse and terrorize their partners and children are given blanket immunity for crimes which would otherwise place them in the deportation pipeline and out of the reach of those whose lives they have destroyed. In fact, after Mr. Vance’s talk had concluded, a (legal) immigrant shared a personal anecdote with me about a hairdresser whose husband had attempted to suffocate her to death, but was allowed to remain in this country-illegally, naturally-even after being brought to the attention of the relevant authorities.
It should be said in Mr. Vance’s defense that he stated categorically that illegal aliens who had committed violent crimes should be deported, which is a far cry from Mayor De Blasio’s stance. However, it’s worth noting that the Manhattan DA is a political post, which is dependent upon the will of the voters, which in this case happened to be a group of New York Republicans. Just as his avowal of support for stop and frisk might have been downplayed before more progressive venues, it’s possible that he might have temporized even more on this subject if speaking to a group like the National Council of La Raza, or the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.
Overall, the audience was surprisingly receptive to DA Vance’s message, which in retrospect probably shouldn’t have been that surprising. The Republican Party of New York City, but particularly the desiccated husk of a party which still exists in Manhattan, is run primarily by the Rockefeller and Lindsay Republicans who once exercised real power in this city and state. Adele Malpass, who delivered some introductory remarks before Cyrus Vance stepped up to the podium, praised the District Attorney’s efforts to kill a bill which would have prevented the arrest of innocent New Yorkers carrying gravity knives. I’m sure the GOP mainstay who asked him later in the evening what he was doing to crack down on gun dealers appreciated this bold stance against individual rights, but I was left rather unimpressed.
For what it’s worth, I thought the event was worthwhile, despite my many disagreements with Mr. Vance, including his apparent belief that compulsory voting, along the lines of Australia, could serve as a civic inducement. Having a public official willing to submit himself to cross-examination, however circumscribed, by the public is increasingly rare and worthy of praise. Hopefully, the officials responsible for some of the problems we encounter in this city on a daily basis will embrace this willingness to engage the public, but I won’t be holding my breath.