The Westchester County Board of Legislators received enough votes Monday night to approve the Immigrant Protection Act (IPA), a bill that would restrain Westchester from using its resources for immigration enforcement.
Following bipartisan collaboration between county officials, lawmakers voted 11-3 along mainly party lines. The Democrats, who unanimously supported the measure, maintained that immigrants would be provided the protection to keep them from living in fear of deportation.
“This is a justice for all bill,” Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining) said. “A lot of the things that are provided in this piece of legislation are just a reaffirmation of the fact that the United States Constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights applies to every human soul on U.S. soil and we know that that is true and we want that affirmed and we want people to know that is true in Westchester County.”
Following President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order restricting travel by refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Borgia introduced the bill last February hoping to reduce fear in Westchester’s immigrant community.
The Board of Legislators passed the original bill last August by a 10-5 margin – also along party lines – but was later vetoed by former County Executive Rob Astorino. Astorino said the legislation created a sanctuary county that violated federal immigration laws and put the county at risk of losing upwards of $13 million in federal grants.
A month later members of the Democratic Caucus pushed to override the veto, but it ultimately failed to gain support missing by one vote. It needed support from 12 of 17 legislators.
“There was a grave misunderstanding about what this legislation did,” Borgia said. “This law does not protect criminals, this law allows for criminal investigations because it’s a public safety measure.”
Republican David Tubiolo (Yonkers), who voted against the bill last year, supported the legislation Monday night.
Lawmakers have been working with law enforcement officials, local organizations and advocates to draft a new law that would comply with federal guidelines and create clear procedures for law enforcement.
“This bill is a better bill. It provides the kinds of protections that we hope for and need in Westchester County for all of our citizens to feel comfortable and good about their lives and what they can do and how they can raise their children without fear,” Vice Chair Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh) said. “I just want to say how very delighted and very grateful I am that this bill has finally passed.”
While Majority Leader Catherine Parker (D-Rye) stressed the law is not a sanctuary bill, Minority Leader John Testa (R-Peekskill) said federal guidelines stipulate that legislation will classify Westchester as a sanctuary jurisdiction. He said if legislators codified the executive order put in place by former County Executives Andy Spano in 2006 and updated by Astorino in 2017, the bill would have received unanimous support.
He added that law enforcement doesn’t work in immigration enforcement and lawsuits could eventually emerge against the county due to the restrictions placed on police officials.
The revised bill would confine the county from sharing information with federal immigration authorities based on race, gender, religion, or national origin and restrict law enforcement officials from asking individuals questions relating to their citizenship or immigration status.
“The Immigrant Protection Act is designed specifically to do only two things; protect undocumented criminals sitting in the county jail, and eliminate the distinction between legal and illegal immigration,” Testa said. “Anything that inhibits local law enforcement from working closely with their federal law enforcement partners like the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies is a bad and reckless idea.”
Despite opposition, the several hundred supporters in attendance during the meeting erupted in loud applause and cheers after lawmakers approved legislation. Borgia immediately broke down in tears and rushed to Tubiolo to give him a hug and thank him.
Chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) added that County Executive George Latimer is in support of legislation and will sign it into law.
And to that effect, Latimer released the following statement shortly after the vote: “The Westchester County Board of Legislators has completed important work on this legislation. They came together, in a bi-partisan way, to protect the people of Westchester. They listened to law enforcement officials, advocates and residents, and drafted a law that is about safety – and nothing else. This legislation in no way goes against Federal law, and in no way will allow criminals to be harbored. To say otherwise is simply not true. This legislation goes to the heart of protecting good honest citizens in their home. Westchester County was built on the backs of immigrants; we cannot forget the path that our ancestors walked. Pope Francis once said: ‘Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger and war.’ I want us, as a community and the people of this County, to focus on that idea.”
“Everyone in this county – do not fear – you can interact with our public safety and our police,” Boykin said. “Have no fear, you are protected.”