Aleksy Raspoutny is worried about what is going to happen after his stint on Rikers Island is over at the end of the year.
He fears he will be handed over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents — contrary to New York’s sanctuary city policy — when his 364-day sentence is up at the end of December.
The 46-year-old Brighton Beach resident came to New York City on a visitor’s visa from his native Ukraine when he was just 17 years old in the mid-1990s. He has struggled to become a United States citizen ever since.
“I really don’t want to go back,” he told THE CITY during a phone interview from Rikers. “I don’t know what is going to happen.”
Raspoutny’s jailing is the result of a guilty plea on a misdemeanor assault charge for a scuffle in the subway — in what he claimed was self-defense.
But the case should never have placed him in the crosshairs of federal immigration officers, according to the Protect Our Courts Act signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018.
That legislation means that local law enforcement cannot hand over most criminally charged undocumented people to ICE. In most cases, jail officials also are prohibited from transferring formerly incarcerated people to ICE right after they complete their sentences.
Raspoutny’s case comes as the City Council is set to debate three new bills next Wednesday to further fortify New York City’s status as a sanctuary city.
The proposed legislation would limit communication between city jail officials and ICE, restrict the NYPD’s ability to hold people on immigration detainers, and allow immigrants harmed by violations of the protections to sue.
But those bills — if they pass — will come too late for Raspoutny.
His trip through the criminal justice system began on Feb. 3, 2022, after he was arrested and charged with cutting the ear and the back of the head of another man in the subway station at 14th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan.
He was released on $25,000 bail shortly after.
While out on bail, he went to Pennsylvania for a barbecue and got arrested on April 12 — and eventually pled guilty on June 23 — to criminal mischief and resisting arrest.
When he was brought back to New York City on Sept. 15, the Manhattan prosecutors asked that his bail be raised because of the new charges. The judge remanded him for a week until a hearing could be held on whether bail could be raised.
But instead of being sent to Rikers, Manhattan DA investigators notified ICE about his immigration detainer and instructed them to pick him up from the courthouse in Lower Manhattan. That’s according to Raspoutny’s defense team, who noted that he was also held by the NYPD before the transfer.
It’s unclear if the ICE handover was a legal mistake because of confusion triggered by the out-of-state criminal case, or done on purpose by the Manhattan DA investigators.
“I didn’t understand anything,” Raspoutny recalled. “I didn’t know why this happened. All they say is we wait for immigration.”
The ICE agents shipped him off to an immigrant detention facility in Pennsylvania.
In order to get him back, Manhattan DA officials made a deal with ICE to transfer him to New York, according to Raspoutny’s lawyers. That deal, known as a legal writ, says the Manhattan DA and the city Department of Correction will return him to ICE once his sentence is over.
“As soon as we learned of this matter, D.A. Bragg’s senior leadership — including the Chief Assistant District Attorney and General Counsel — worked alongside the defense to ensure Mr. Raspoutny’s return to custody in New York City,” said Manhattan DA spokesperson Emily Tuttle.
Raspoutny was returned to Rikers on Sept. 23 by the Manhattan DA investigators who went to Pennsylvania to pick him up.
If returned to federal custody, Raspoutny would likely sit in a stateside detention facility, since ICE has stopped deporting undocumented Ukrainians with criminal convictions as the war rages on.
“I don’t want to go back,” he said. “I love this country. I love America.”
In order to prevent future mixups, said Tuttle, Manhattan DA officials reviewed their office’s 2017 immigration policy — and issued an expanded and enhanced version. The new version was created in consultation with immigration organizations and advocates, she added.
It is all too late for Raspoutny.
“He can apply for asylum, but asylum is a form of relief that was designed to protect people from persecution by their own governments, and not for situations of foreign invasion” said his immigration lawyer, Scott Foletta, a supervising attorney with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.
His family members with legal status can also file a petition on his behalf but that process would likely take several years before the case is reviewed, Foletta said.
Raspoutny’s legal team hopes city jail officials release him without transferring him to ICE, as New York law required in the first place.
While out of jail he can wait for his family petition to be approved, Foletta said.
An ICE spokesperson noted that Raspoutny came to America on Oct. 14, 1994 for a temporary legal visit but has since “overstayed … in violation of U.S. immigration law.”
While in the country, he has had “numerous convictions for shoplifting” in New Jersey dating back to 2000, according to the immigration enforcement agency. “Regardless of nationality, ICE makes custody determinations on a case-by-case basis,” said ICE spokesperson Emilio Dabul.
“ICE officers make associated decisions and apply prosecutorial discretion in a responsible manner, informed by their experience as law enforcement professionals and in a way that best protects against the greatest threats to the homeland,” he added.
Bragg and his representatives declined to discuss what steps they are taking to protect Raspoutny upon his release.
“In order to secure Mr. Raspoutny’s transfer from a federal detention center in Pennsylvania to New York City custody as soon as possible, the office sought a court-issued writ directed to federal immigration authorities,” Tuttle said in a statement.
“Prior to seeking the writ, the office provided Mr. Raspoutny’s attorneys with a copy and discussed the standard language used by New York City agencies requiring his return to ICE custody after the conclusion of our case,” she added.
Raspoutny’s lawyers want Bragg and his staff to protect him from the clutches of ICE.
“We are simply asking the Manhattan DA’s office to show basic respect for the laws that apply to them,” said Meghna Philip, special litigation attorney for the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. “They violated New York’s most essential sanctuary laws, and the least they can do now is stop coordinating with ICE to detain and deport our client to Ukraine.”