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Cuomo offers legal aid to airport detainees, protection for transit workers

"We have no tolerance for intolerance,” the governor said.
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is dispatching lawyers from his office and the Port of Authority to aid persons detained at airports by federal authorities enforcing President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.

In addition to providing legal counsel to detainees, the governor announced during a news conference Sunday that he is proposing legislation to protect transportation workers against physical assault perpetrated by anyone on the basis of race or religion.

The proposed bill was sparked by an attack against Rabeeya Khan, a Muslim airline employee in her office in the Delta Sky Lounge. A Massachusetts businessman, 57-year-old Robin A. Rhodes, is accused of mocking her religion and kicking her in the leg. He is being charged with hate crimes, prosecutors said.

Anyone convicted of assaulting an airport worker or other state transit employee would be guilty of a class D felony and subject to a maximum sentence of seven years in prison under the new law, dubbed the Transportation Worker Protection Act.

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“We have no tolerance for intolerance,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo called the attack against Khan as described in the criminal complaint a “despicable act.”

The new law would offer protections to state airport and transit worker similar to those already in place for bus drivers and subway employees.

Alphonso David, the governor’s chief counsel, added that the New York Department of State is establishing a hotline for detainees who desire legal assistance.

As of Sunday afternoon, six people were still being detained at JFK International Airport, said Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport.

The governor repeated implied that Trump’s executive order flies in the face of a nation built by immigrants.

“The essence of the Statute of Liberty lives in our hearts,” Cuomo said. “Most New Yorkers are immigrants. I think that’s why we feel so strongly about it.”

He added that New Yorkers are particularly aware of the threat of terrorism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. However, Trump’s “fiat” to close America’s door to refugees and immigrants is a wrongheaded response to extremism, he asserted.

“We’re not threatened by new immigrants,” Cuomo said. “We celebrate new immigrants.”

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