By Barrett Seaman
After 90 minutes of impassioned public comment, Irvington’s Board of Trustees unanimously adopted a resolution stating that its law enforcement officials will “not engage in activities solely for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws” and “not honor detainer requests” from immigration enforcement agencies without judicial warrant. The three-page resolution further commits that the village will not cooperate in the creation of any kind of registry or share personal information unless there is evidence of criminal activity.
The language used in the resolution was originally crafted by village resident and attorney David Imamura for a group calling itself Irvington Activists. It was further refined by Village Attorney Marianne Stecich, who incorporated guidelines issued by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. According to Imamura, other communities in Westchester and beyond are now considering the document for adoption.
While the vast majority of residents who turned up at the March 6 regular board meeting clearly favored passage, a handful of opponents spoke out against adoption. One, attorney Lauri Regan, returned several times to the microphone to challenge the resolution. Regan also submitted a three-page, single-spaced letter to Mayor Brian C. Smith and four trustees outlining her case for rejecting the document. By adopting it, she argued, the village would be protecting criminals and thus endangering the lives of citizens. Moreover, she asserted, by flouting federal law, Irvington would risk forfeiting federal funding and subject itself to lawsuits, suggesting at one point that she herself might bring legal action.
Joining Regan in opposition was 50-year resident Paul Ficalora, who questioned the need for such a resolution. “If police are already doing this,” he asked, “why do we need this at all?” Ficalora and others also claimed that the board had not given sufficient pubic notice and was thus rushing passage. “Why not have a referendum?” he asked the mayor.
Speakers supporting the resolution far outweighed opponents in number if not in words. Indeed, the hearing was largely a chorus of encomiums. Mitchell Bard, a journalism professor told the board: “You are expressing the values that drew families like mine to Irvington.”
Several speakers told of immigrants living in fear under the current climate. Jennifer Friedman, counsel for the domestic violence prevention agency My Sister’s Place reported, “our clients are petrified.” Neil Lipinski said his sister, an immigration lawyer in South Carolina, spoke of the “God-awful fear people are living with.”
Resident Michael Cornman, another attorney, accused Regan of fear-mongering.” The new policy, he told the gathering, “will not make you one iota less safe.” Thom Thacker, one of the leaders of the Irvington Activist movement, asserted that the resolution “does not violate or subvert federal law” and cited the statement by a nationwide group of police chiefs that cooperation with federal immigration enforcers would actually undermine local policing efforts.
As to the charge that the board had rushed the resolution through without sufficient time for public comment, former Mayor Nikki Coddington noted that it had been on the board’s agenda in at least three previous meetings and had been covered by the local press. “You’ve given plenty of notice,” she said.
Closing off the debate, Mayor Smith asked each of the trustees to comment. All four spoke in favor of the resolution. Trustee Janice Silverberg noted that the document was fully authorized by the state attorney general and did not condone criminal behavior. “The real issue here,” she said, “is what kind of community we are.”
Deputy Mayor Connie Kehoe, observing that “This is what democracy looks like,” pronounced herself “very pleased with where we are at this moment.”
Mayor Brian Smith thanked Lauri Regan for her critique, saying that it had forced village officials to look long and hard at the language of the resolution. As for the claim that the board had rushed the proposal through and should have held a referendum, he retorted: “You actually elected the five of us. We have a referendum. It’s the election in November.”
With that, the five elected officials passed the resolution. The room erupted in applause, with hugs and handshakes all round—with the exception of the small group of opponents, who trickled out into the night.