County Legislators Advance Proposed Immigrant Protection Act
Westchester County legislators plan to vote on a revised Immigrant Protection Act on Aug. 7, a bill that is intended to restrain the county from using its resources for immigration enforcement.
The decision to move the vote to early next month came just hours before the Board of Legislators had tentatively scheduled a vote at its meeting Monday night.
However, during the board’s Legislation Committee meeting Monday afternoon, legislators came to a consensus that language needed to be tightened before it could go to the full body. Also, advocates for the immigrant community had inadvertently scheduled a meeting Monday afternoon with County Executive Rob Astorino and his staff at the same time the Legislation Committee convened.
“This is a piece of legislation that has been worked on by a lot of different people and a lot of different stakeholders and this is something that has a lot of clarity as to how we behave as a county,” said Majority Leader Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), who introduced the bill earlier this year.
Minority Leader Jim Maisano (R-New Rochelle) urged his colleagues to examine the anticipated revisions from County Attorney Robert Meehan and be ready to make comments in preparation for an Aug. 7 vote.
“This is roll-up-your-sleeves time,” Maisano said. “We have a couple of weeks to roll up our sleeves. Every legislator should review the law, make suggestions, let us know what you think. This is the time to finish our work because there will be no further delays.”
There has been a major push from advocates for the Westchester immigrant community following President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order restricting travel by refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries. Many immigrants have become distrustful of law enforcement authorities regardless of status, Borgia said.
In February, the Board of Legislators’ Democratic Caucus and Legislator Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers) sponsored the Immigrant 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.
Last week Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett and commissioners from the departments of social services, corrections, public safety and probation joined legislators to work on the bill. Plunkett said he wanted the bill to be crafted with bipartisan support.
“We want to ensure the constitutional rights of every resident in Westchester are protected,” said Commissioner of Public Safety George Longworth. “We also want to strike a balance to avoid discouraging undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes or otherwise seeking the assistance of the police.”
Longworth raised concerns regarding regulated interagency cooperation and the collection of information that accompanies standard booking processes and ongoing investigations.
“There are unintended consequences in prohibiting certain forms of information from being communicated between law enforcement agencies,” Lt. Jeffrey Weiss added.
Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Justin Pruyne agreed, stating the importance of collaborating with outside agencies, including Homeland Security, the Joint Terrorist Task Force, the Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Rocco Pozzi, commissioner of probation, voiced similar concerns with the previous wording of the bill, which could prohibit the sharing of information with a federal agency that makes an inquiry about someone who commits a dangerous crime.
“Our only concern is that we want to continue to work with those agencies that come in making inquires about people who are dangerous, not only dangerous in our communities, but people who are a danger to their families,” Pozzi said. “I would hope that we would continue to cooperate and try to make our community safer by being able to get that element of individuals that we’re supervising back perhaps to where they belong, where they cannot harm their families or communities anymore.”
Legislator Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) added that the bill does not prohibit the county from complying with federal orders.
If passed, the act would protect 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 ensure that services provided by the county will be available to all who are eligible, despite immigration status.
“The drafting of this bill has included countless hours of hard work from many dedicated immigration advocates and activists,” Borgia said. “I look forward to our continued work together to get the Immigrant Protection Act over the finish line.”
Martin Wilbur contributed to this article.