by Rick Pezzullo –
Flanked by legislators, law enforcement officials and immigration advocates, Westchester County Executive George Latimer signed the Immigrant Protection Act on March 20, a measure crafted to improve trust between police and residents and provide protection to immigrants living in fear of deportation.
When Latimer approved the law eight days after the Board of Legislators voted 11-3 to pass it, Westchester became the first county in New York State to have such a bill on the books.
“This is a justice for all bill,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), who first introduced the bill in February 2017 following President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order restricting travel by refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
“A lot of the things that are provided in this piece of legislation are just a reaffirmation of the fact that the United States Constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights applies to every human soul on U.S. soil; we know that that is true, we want that affirmed, and we want people to know that is true in Westchester County,” Borgia said.
The Board of Legislators passed the original bill last August by a 10-5 margin, but it was later vetoed by former County Executive Rob Astorino. Astorino maintained the legislation created a sanctuary county that violated federal immigration laws and put the county at risk of losing upwards of $13 million in federal grants.
A month later, members of the Democratic Caucus pushed to override the veto, but it ultimately failed to gain support missing by one vote.
“The Board of Legislators came together in a bi-partisan way, with the assistance of law enforcement and immigration advocates alike, to craft a law which fully complies with federal law while offering humane peace of mind to our immigrant brothers and sisters,” Latimer said. “This law makes all Westchester residents safer by increasing trust between communities and allowing Westchester law enforcement officials to focus on their job – not the federal governments.”
The Immigrant Protection Act outlines what information county law enforcement will require from those they interact with and how this information is shared with all levels of law enforcement. The Act, which is supported by the county departments of Public Safety, Corrections and Probation, stipulates, in part, that detainees must be made aware of various immigration status issues; detainees may not be held without a criminal warrant; and county agencies and employees shall not perform the duties of federal immigration authorities, engage in the enforcement of federal immigration law, or accept requests by federal immigration authorities to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
“Our job is to keep Westchester residents safe – regardless of their background,” said Martin McGlynn, acting Department of Public Safety commissioner. “This law, which will enable a greater level of trust between our officers and the large immigrant population in our communities, will make our job easier. Increased cooperation between residents and our officers helps make our County safer for everyone.”
Ben Boykin (D/White Plains), Chair of the Board of Legislators, said, “It is wonderful to see our new County Executive George Latimer signing into law this common-sense measure which protects the safety and security of all Westchester residents. It’s important for people to know that this does not make Westchester a ‘sanctuary’ County. In fact, it requires that County law enforcement complies with all state and federal laws. This law ensures that people living peacefully and productively in our communities can continue to contribute to the life in Westchester, without fear of reaching out to law enforcement when they have been victimized.”
Legislator Virginia Perez (D/Yonkers), who was born in the Dominican Republic, said, “As a Hispanic immigrant, this is an emotional moment for me; it’s also a historic moment for Westchester. The Immigrant Protection Act delivers on our values, making Westchester the welcoming place we want it to be for hard working immigrant families who have come here in pursuit of the American Dream. But it also delivers the safety and security we want for all residents by lifting the cloud of fear that keeps immigrants from reaching out to County officials if they’ve been victims of a crime or if they have information about a crime.”
Neighbors Link Executive Director Carola Otero Bracco, whose organization has, for the last 17 years, been dedicated to the mission of strengthening the whole community through the healthy integration of immigrants, applauded the passage of the measure.
“Neighbors Link considers the Immigrant Protection Act to be a crucial element for the safety of the entire community, and we are deeply gratified that the Westchester County Legislature has passed this measure,” Bracco said. “This is a stronger and more durable bill thanks to the hard work of so many, in particular, Legislator Catherine Borgia. We congratulate Westchester County Executive George Latimer for signing this historic legislation – the first legislation of its kind in Westchester County. We are proud to stand with the coalition of supporters and advocates who made it happen. It is a step forward in acknowledging that Westchester County represents welcoming communities that are strengthened by the richness of our diversity.”
“Local government can and should be focused on providing services and support to all residents, regardless of immigration status, rather than aiding the federal government in its efforts to deport and divide families,” said Shannon Wong, director of the NYCLU Lower Hudson Valley chapter. “With this legislation, Westchester County is making clear that it wants no part in the Trump administration’s deportation regime.”
However, two of the three legislators that opposed the bill, Minority Leader John Testa (R/Peekskill) and Margaret Cunzio (C/Thornwood), insisted the act was not what it seemed.
“Despite its name, the Immigrant Protection Act does not provide new protections for our immigrant community. In fact, the IPA, as it is written, protects criminals while putting innocent people in greater danger,” Testa and Cunzio said in a joint statement. “The Act will make it more difficult to make transfers of prisoners at the county jail who are wanted on federal charges by Homeland Security. The jail provides a safe and neutral place to make such transfers. Under this act, transfers would be moved into the community which poses greater risks for innocent members of the community and Law Enforcement. No one wants to prevent victims of crimes, especially domestic violence, from being reported out of fear of immigration issues. Shielding people who are accused of committing crimes from federal authorities is dangerous and irresponsible. When someone who is in this country illegally commits a crime, their victims are usually fellow immigrants. Why would we want to protect these predators?”