WHITE PLAINS – Joined by Westchester County’s largest Hispanic law enforcement organization, members of the county’s Departments of Public Safety and Correction, and union leaders from the Department of Correction, County Executive Robert P. Astorino promised to veto legislation that would make Westchester a sanctuary county because it would jeopardize public safety, particularly those in our immigrant communities, would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and would be nearly impossible to enforce.
The Immigration Protection Act was approved 10-5 by the Board of Legislators earlier today. The county executive now has 10 days to veto the Act.
“Westchester is a diverse county with vibrant immigrant communities that are welcomed and valued,” Astorino said. “I’m opposed to this Act because it puts public safety at risk, especially those in our immigrant communities; puts Westchester at odds with our own federal government; creates rights not available to ordinary citizens; will jeopardize approximately $13 million in federal funds and is so confusing as to be unenforceable. It all adds up to be a dangerous idea, and for those reasons I will veto this legislation.”
In addressing issues with the Act, Astorino noted that enforcing immigration laws and deportations are the responsibility of the federal government, not county police, and that this Act severely restricts how local communities and law enforcement communicate with federal agencies, such as the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.
The county executive also said that his Administration had long worked with legislators and immigration groups to come up with workable legislation. But after much testimony from advocates, public safety, corrections and social services, the grave flaws in the Act were apparent and unworkable. In this case, political grandstanding was put before public safety, Astorino said.
“Just because proponents of the bill say it doesn’t create a sanctuary county, doesn’t make it so,” Astorino said. “Our County Attorney has given us an opinion that passage of this act makes Westchester a sanctuary county and at odds with the federal government.”
In his legal opinion, County Attorney Robert Meehan raised concerns that the law established “sanctuary policies,” jeopardizes millions of dollars in federal funds, and raises substantial questions as to whether it violates federal law.
“There are several provisions of the IPA which specifically limit the discretion of and prohibit county law enforcement agencies and officers from cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities,” Meehan wrote. “As such, the legislation, based upon a review of recent statements by the Attorney General of the United States and the Department of Justice, establishes ‘sanctuary policies’ which jeopardize receipt by the county of federal law enforcement grants.”
Hector Lopez, president of the Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association, the county’s largest law enforcement group representing Hispanic officers, said that while his members respect and understand the vital role that immigrants play in this county, passage of the law endangers law-abiding residents while providing a safe haven for undocumented immigrants who have broken the law.
“The passing of this Act opens the doors for undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activity, such as the ruthless MS-13 gang, to migrate to Westchester and prey on other immigrants, many of whom will not report crimes committed against them for fear of retribution,” Lopez said. “This act is placing handcuffs on our law enforcement officers, not the criminals.”
George Longworth, commissioner of the Westchester County Office of Public Safety, called it reckless.
“I want to be 100 percent clear: This bill is being passed over the objections of Westchester County law enforcement authorities,” Longworth said. “It will make Westchester families and police officers less safe. Anything that inhibits our ability to work with federal law enforcement partners like the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies is a bad and reckless idea.”
In working closely with the county, Legal Aid Society of Westchester Executive Director Clare J. Degnan lauded the valid goals of this Act, but was concerned with its potential for unintended consequences. She was particularly concerned with areas relating to sharing information with federal authorities and issuing of judicial warrants for inmates, along with conflicting and contradictory language within the law itself.
Immigration reform is needed, Astorino said, but it is the duty of Congress, not local legislatures.
“Let me also stress that I support immigration reform. For more than two decades, Republicans and Democrats have failed to fix our nation’s immigration system. That failure is why we are here today. So yes, reform is needed. But this legislation is not it. Good intentions do not make good law.”