Home In America Westchester Immigrant Protection Act passes, but Astorino plans to veto

Immigrant Protection Act passes, but Astorino plans to veto

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Many of those in attendance at the board of legislators held signs expressing their support of the act.
Photo by Aviva Meyer

Just hours after the Immigrant Protection Act was passed by the Westchester County Board of Legislators, County Executive Robert P. Astorino announced his own plans to veto the legislation.

Introduced in February, the Immigrant Protection Act prevents Westchester County from using any of its resources to assist in federal investigations based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or national origin.

“The intent of this bill is to create a policy of public safety for all in Westchester County,” said Majority Leader Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat who sponsored the bill. “In surveys all across the country, immigrants have reported that they are less likely to contact police officers if they have been the victim of a crime because of potential (immigration) consequences. Westchester is too diverse a county for our residents to live in fear.”

The bill’s language was the subject of months of back-and-forth negotiations between Republican and Democratic members of the board.

Legislators ultimately passed the Immigrant Protection Act by a vote of 10-5 on Aug. 7, with two members – one Democrat and one Republican – absent. All present members of the Democratic caucus voted in favor of the bill and were joined by Republican legislators David Gelfarb and James Maisano.

However, immediately following the announcement of the bill’s passage, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino said he planned to veto the legislation.

Astorino said the act would make Westchester a “sanctuary” county and cost taxpayers nearly $13 million in federal funding. Sanctuary jurisdictions are those that have ordinances or practices that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sanctuary jurisdictions run the risk of losing access to certain federal law enforcement grants if they prohibit officials from communicating with ICE.

County Attorney Robert Meehan said there are several provisions included in the Immigrant Protection Act that could limit the discretion of and prohibit county law enforcement from cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities, adding that the bill establishes “sanctuary policies.”

Astorino said the act would severely restrict how local law enforcement officials communicate with federal agencies.

“It all adds up to be a dangerous idea,” Astorino said.

The Immigrant Protection Act follows a model laid out by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman aimed at protecting immigrant communities. The model provisions clarify that local law enforcement can limit their participation in federal immigration enforcement activities in several ways: by refusing to enforce federal nonjudicial civil immigration warrants; by denying federal requests to hold uncharged individuals in custody more than 48 hours; by limiting access of federal agents to individuals currently in custody; and by limiting information-gathering that will be used exclusively for federal immigration enforcement.

“This legislation is not a sanctuary bill,” Borgia said. “It simply ensures county law enforcement focuses their attention and resources on protecting public safety in Westchester, while complying fully with federal law.”

The Immigrant Protection Act also codifies an executive order issued by former Democratic County Executive Andrew Spano in 2006, which put a system in place regarding immigration enforcement.

In a joint statement released by Republican members of the board of legislators who voted against the act, legislators said that Spano’s executive order remains in effect and continues to be followed by the county. Those legislators also believe the Immigrant Protection Act provides little in the way of new protections for immigrants, while creating ill-advised new policies.

“It effectively undermines and micromanages law enforcement and puts the safety of the general public at risk,” according to the statement.

George Longworth, commissioner of the Westchester County Office of Public Safety, also voiced strong objections to the legislation.

“It will make Westchester families and police officers less safe,” Longworth said. “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.”

Still, those in favor of the bill assert that its language is in compliance with federal laws and that the act would have a positive effect on the relationship between residents and law enforcement officials.

“Our legislation was very much in keeping with the U.S. Constitution and federal law,” said Legislator Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat.

In order to override the county executive’s veto, the board of legislators would need 12 votes in favor of the legislation. Parker is hopeful the board could attain those numbers in the coming weeks.

“I think there’s going to be significant pressure applied to some of those legislators that voted against the bill,” she said.

Parker said she hopes the board will hold a vote on the override at its next regular meeting on Sept. 25.

“After that, we will see what happens after the elections in November,” she said.

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