The Trump administration took renewed aim at New York City’s so-called sanctuary policies on Friday after the recent arrest of an undocumented Guyanese man on charges that he raped and murdered a 92-year-old woman in Queens.
Matthew T. Albence, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, accused the city of allowing the accused killer of the woman, Maria Fuertes, to walk free months ago when he should have been held for possible deportation.
“A phone call, one simple phone call, and Ms. Fuertes would be alive today,” Mr. Albence said at a news conference at the ICE field office in Lower Manhattan.
His sharp rebuke came at the same time as the woman’s family also criticized the authorities. Speaking at his mother’s funeral on Thursday, one of Ms. Fuertes’s sons, Hugo Fuertes, said, “I blame the city as much as immigration because they have not done an adequate job.”
He added, drawing applause, “He was a criminal and they did not pay attention to this. They left him in the streets and he continued to do his misdeeds — because of that my mother is dead.”
He said, in a later interview, that local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities had tossed the responsibility between themselves “like hot potato.”
The Jan. 6 rape and murder of Ms. Fuertes has become a flash point in the broader debate over immigration and so-called sanctuary cities, where officials have resisted deputizing law enforcement to help federal immigration authorities detain and deport undocumented immigrants. Mr. Albence’s visit to New York came on the heels of a statement from his agency this week condemning the city’s sanctuary policies.
Reeaz Khan of Richmond Park, Queens, had been arrested in November and accused of beating his father in an altercation. ICE officials said that at the time the agency had asked the New York Police Department to hold Mr. Khan under what is called a detainer request.
A detainer asks local law enforcement authorities to hold undocumented immigrants who have been charged or convicted of crimes for 48 hours after their release so that immigration agents can pick them up for possible deportation.
New York’s detainer law and policy mandates that officials turn over to ICE only those who are convicted of violent and serious offenses, and only when ICE has met legal and due process requirements.
Mr. Khan, 21, was released shortly after he was arraigned on charges of assault and criminal possession of a weapon in relation to the altercation with his father, in which the authorities said he had slashed his father with a broken coffee cup. He was arrested again last week and charged with the murder of Ms. Fuertes.
The Police Department disputed the claim, saying it did not receive a detainer request when Mr. Khan was first arrested. ICE responded by releasing a copy of the fax transmission form appended to the detainer, which was dated Nov. 27, the same day as the arrest.
“How much more do you need? Should he have beat up his mother, too? Should he kick the dog?” Mr. Albence said. “How much more do you need to take enforcement action against an illegal alien?”
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio called Ms. Fuertes’s death “an absolute tragedy.”
“Fear, hate and attempts to divide are signatures of the Trump Administration, not New York City. We are the safest big city in America because of our policies, not in spite of them,” said the spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein.
Ms. Fuertes emigrated to New York from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s and was a legal resident of the United States, her son said. In recent years, she collected cans around her neighborhood of South Richmond Hill, Queens, and was described after her death as a beloved figure in her community.
Even as Mr. Fuertes critcized the city’s handling of Mr. Khan’s assault case, he also denounced recent federal immigration policies resulting in more deportations and child separation. “They do not do what they should be doing,” said Mr. Fuertes, 69.
He said in an interview that he agreed with sanctuary city policies but did not believe “criminals” should be walking out on the streets.
Mr. Albence, the acting ICE director, excoriated New York’s sanctuary policies beyond the death of Ms. Fuertes, saying the city refused to honor thousands of detainers each year and failed to cooperate in other ways, such as barring ICE agents from conducting interviews in city jails.
Of the more than 7,500 detainer requests lodged by the ICE New York bureau field office last year, local authorities honored about 10, Mr. Albence said.
President Trump has repeatedly attacked sanctuary cities — which include New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco — saying that refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to transfer those arrested into the custody of ICE jeopardizes public safety, and that such places have become havens for criminals.
Since his 2016 campaign for president, Mr. Trump has called attention to cases in which people were killed or harmed by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities and beyond, including that of Kathryn Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco, and whose alleged murderer was ultimately acquitted.
The Trump administration has threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal funding for law enforcement programs in New York, and ICE has detained a growing number of undocumented residents there, including around courthouses.
During his news conference, Mr. Albence said there had been a more “visible presence” of ICE officers in communities around the country during the last two or three years because of sanctuary policies.
“We are not going to turn a blind eye and put innocent people at risk because the law enforcement agencies in certain jurisdictions don’t, don’t or can’t, work with us,” he said.
Mr. Khan was arrested on Jan. 10 after the police had released surveillance video asking for the public’s assistance in finding a man suspected of attacking Ms. Fuertes, who was found unconscious and partially exposed behind a parked vehicle near her home. She later died of her injuries.
Mr. Khan is scheduled to appear in court next week in connection with the charges that he assaulted his father.
Andrea Salcedo contributed reporting.