Wall Street Journal
By Joseph De Avila
August 08, 2017
A fight is brewing in Westchester County over legislation aimed at protecting immigrants because critics say it will result in the county being labeled a sanctuary municipality, risking millions in federal funds.
The county’s Board of Legislators passed legislation Monday that limits information that can be given to federal immigration officials about suspects in the county’s custody. The bill requires federal immigration officials to obtain a warrant before they can interview someone in jail and allows an inmate to have an attorney present when being questioned by federal authorities.
Legislators who support the bill say it complies with federal laws and will encourage immigrants who are witnesses or victims of crime to cooperate with local law enforcement without fear of being deported.
“We knew that everyone is less safe when they fear the police,” said board member Catherine Borgia, a Democrat, who supports the bill.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, says the legislation will establish sanctuary policies that run afoul of requirements for federal funds set by the Justice Department, endangering about $13 million in funding. Mr. Astorino said Tuesday he will veto the measure.
The bill passed, 10-5, with two legislators absent. A veto override will require 12 votes. Ms. Borgia said she is optimistic that the bill’s supporters will be able to secure the two additional votes.
Mr. Astorino said the county already has a policy barring the county police from acting as agents of federal immigration authorities, and county police don’t investigate or detain residents based solely on their immigration status. He said restricting how the county’s law-enforcement authorities interact with federal immigration officials isn’t in the public’s best interest.
“This will put our residents and our undocumented immigrant population at risk,” Mr. Astorino said. “The criminal element in the undocumented community…preys on the undocumented more than anyone else.”
There are about 61,000 undocumented immigrants, mostly from Latin America, living in Westchester County, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Ms. Borgia acknowledged the bill could jeopardize some federal funds but said the risk is minimal. She said about half of the $13 million the federal government provides to the county is for housing federal inmates, and she doubts that funding would be pulled.
Hector Lopez, president of the Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association and a sergeant who works in the Westchester County Jail, said the proposal, if it becomes law, would encourage gang members and criminals to come to Westchester.
“We don’t want to encourage the bad elements to come here,” Sgt. Lopez said. “In their minds, this is going to be a safe haven for them.”
Ms. Borgia said such concern is “pretty speculative.”
“The criminal prosecution of those gang members will not be impeded by this act at all,” Ms. Borgia said.
Write to Joseph De Avila at email@example.com
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