Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino issued an executive order this week that prohibits law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status unless the officer is “required by law to do so, or is investigating illegal activity other than mere status as an undocumented alien.”
The order instructs county law enforcement to continue their cooperation with federal authorities in investigating and apprehending undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activity.
“While we wait for Washington to finally get its act together, Westchester will continue to protect all of its residents,” Astorino said when issuing the order. “However, if you end up in our jail for committing a crime, and you’re not here legally, we’re not providing a sanctuary to you and we will cooperate fully with federal immigration officials.”
Astorino said the order reinforces the county’s existing procedure and replaces a 2006 order issued by then-County Executive Andrew Spano.
The order prevents officers from apprehending individuals based solely on their suspected immigration status or race. It also prevents law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status when individuals seek county services or when they are witnesses to or victims of a crime.
“Everyone in Westchester, no matter what their immigration status is, should feel safe to report crimes and seek medical attention,” said Astorino.
The county executive’s order follows his veto last month of the Immigrant Protection Act, which was passed by the county Board of Legislators in a 10-5 vote in August.
In his veto, Astorino said the act would have designated Westchester as a “sanctuary county,” which he said could 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.
Astorino called the executive order a balanced compromise designed to foster trust within the immigrant community, while not providing sanctuary to criminals.
Others, however, felt the order does not go far enough in protecting immigrants.
“This order is a restatement of existing county policy without the clarity needed to truly protect immigrant residents of Westchester County,” said Karin Anderson Pozner, lead attorney with the Neighbors Link Community Law Practice. “It does nothing to end the practice of data sharing between county department of corrections and federal civil immigration authorities, even when there is no ongoing criminal investigation involving federal officials and even when the subject is innocent of any wrongdoing.”
County Legislator Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat, called the order a “half-step,” adding that it could put immigrants at higher risk, allowing them to believe they will be provided with adequate protection.
“Recent federal action has shown that executive orders depend on the opinion and whim of a single individual,” she said. “They do not have the force of legislative action and can be easily rescinded.”
The Board of Legislators, which is composed of nine Democrats, seven Republicans and one Conservative, would need 12 votes to override the county executive’s veto of the Immigrant Protection Act. The board’s next regular meeting is on Sept. 25.