by Barrett Seaman
Following the adoption March 6 by Irvington’s Board of Trustees of a resolution declaring that the village will not cooperate with enforcement of federal immigration laws, the language crafted for the village has become a model for other Westchester municipalities. A version is currently under consideration by the Westchester County Board of Legislators.
According to the Irvington resolution, village 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 former village resident and attorney David Imamura for a group calling itself Irvington Activists. Village Attorney Marianne Stecich, who incorporated guidelines issued by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, further refined it.
From the outset, according to its proponents, the resolution was designed to avoid violating federal law, thereby inviting federal authorities to punish the village by withdrawing federal funding. Asked about the effort by Democrats on the Board of Legislators to pass similar legislation, County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, cited the inherent risks of losing federal aid. The Trump Justice Department has since named over 200 municipalities that have designated themselves as “sanctuaries” as in danger of losing funding, but neither Irvington nor any Westchester municipality was on the list.
While the vast majority of residents who turned up at the March 6 Irvington 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 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.”
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 Activists 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.
Closing off the debate, Smith asked each trustee 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.”
Smith thanked 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.
In the wake of Irvington’s measure, neighboring Dobbs Ferry’s board passed a statement of tolerance and Bedford adopted a similar, though less extensive resolution declaring that the responsibility of enforcing immigration laws rested with the federal government, not with the Town of Bedford.
The measure under discussion at the county level comes in the form of a proposed law that attempts to codify a county policy adopted under the previous administration of County Executive Andrew Spano. It would restrict county funds from being used to create any kind of registry—not just for undocumented immigrants but also for any subgroup. To survive, however, it must avoid violating federal statutes barring efforts by local governments to prevent the sharing of information with federal authorities. Said Legislator Mary Jane Shimsky, who represents four rivertown villages, “We don’t want to bring the full weight of the federal government down on our municipalities.”
Both the county and the Town of Greenburgh have sought the advice of Pace University Law School professor Vanessa Merton, who is advising them to tighten up the language in their bills. Both town and county bodies have also addressed the issue of driver’s licenses for undocumented residents. In late March, the Greenburgh Town Board of Supervisors approved a resolution asking the state legislature to approve legislation that would authorize immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.
Proponents of the county bill believe they have the votes to pass it sometime later this spring, provided the language is right—and may have enough support to override a potential veto by Astorino.