After the Westchester County Board of Legislators passed the Immigration Protection Act, a bill that will restrain Westchester from using its resources for immigration enforcement, County Executive Rob Astorino announced his plan to veto the legislation.
Following months of bipartisan collaboration between county officials and outreach from the community, county legislators voted 10-5 Monday afternoon, with supporting voters welcoming immigrants into the county ensuring their protection from any harmful acts.
“We want all of our immigrant community to know they can feel safe interacting with any county employee and they are not going to be targeted,” Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining) said. “We believe this is a step in the right direction to help improve the lives of people, to protect vulnerable people and to make sure that our true American values are protected here in Westchester County.”
Following President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order restricting travel by refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries, Borgia introduced the bill hoping to reduce fear in the immigrant community.
Jennifer Freidman, managing director of legal services at White Plains-based My Sisters’ Place explained that several immigrant victims of domestic violence refused to report crimes due to fear of deportation.
“Being able to communicate without fear is critical to their safety,” Freidman said. “This is a critical and impactful step to protect immigrants in Westchester and our organization strongly supports this act.”
In February, the Board of Legislators’ Democratic Caucus and Legislator Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers) sponsored the Immigration Protection Act, a measure that prevents the county from using any of its resources to assist in federal investigations based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity or national origin.
While the bill has received outpouring support from several hundred residents, Astorino, along with Minority Whip Gordon Burrows (R-Yonkers) and Minority Leader John Testa (R-Peekskill), feel the well-intentioned act provides fewer protections for immigrants and restricts law enforcement officials from doing their job.
“I’m opposed to this sanctuary act because it puts the public safety at risk,” Astorino said. “Hindering the collection and sharing of information of criminal activity puts the community at risk, if we do not share information with each other that gap could lead to something terrible happening.”
Astorino added that by not cooperating with federal laws, the county could be at risk of losing upwards of $13 million in federal grants.
“It all adds up to a very dangerous idea, it is politics at its worst,” Astorino said. “I support immigration reform, but this legislation is not it.”
“This bill is being passed over the objections of the Westchester County law enforcement,” Commissioner of Public Safety George Longworth said in a statement to the board. “Anything that inhibits the abilities of our law enforcement officers is a bad and reckless idea.”
Hector Lopez, president of the Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association, also feels the new law will cause harm to the community by providing a safe haven for unlawful immigrants.
“We as an association do not support an act that will put our communities in danger,” Lopez said. “Once the word is out that we have become a sanctuary county, the migration will begin.”
Legislator Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) stressed the act is not a sanctuary bill and fully cooperates with federal law.
“I think now is the time for us to come together to take action on this very important bill to protect the people of Westchester County,” Boykin said.
The act protects confidential information shared with county departments and would prohibit officers from honoring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests that lack probable cause. It would also comply fully with federal law and ensure that services provided by the county will be available to all who are eligible, despite immigration status.
Westchester is the first county in New York to pass this type of measure.
Despite Astorino’s expected veto, Borgia encouraged supporters to continue to fight to change the minds of opposing legislators in the hope of overriding the veto. The bill would need support from 12 of 17 legislators.