OLA Calls for Town Support on Immigration Concerns

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA) urged residents this week to reach out to elected officials to gain clarity on their stance when it comes to immigration enforcement. The organization’s executive director, Minerva Perez, said the rhetoric and executive orders coming from the White House, coupled with an announcement that Suffolk County Sherriff Vincent Demarco would not require judicial warrants to hold someone at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has left some in the Hispanic community living with a sense of fear amid uncertainty and misinformation.

In an action alert issued to OLA supporters this week, Ms. Perez encouraged residents to contact Suffolk County officials and to attend meetings of the East Hampton Town Board this Thursday and the Southampton Town Board on February 28. She also announced OLA would host an Immigration and Civil Rights Free Community Forum, in English and Spanish, on Tuesday, February 21, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Bridgehampton.

“People that have been here for 20 years, that contribute to our local businesses and communities, some who are in the process of being documented, are living with a tremendous level of fear right now,” said Ms. Perez. “It is not healthy for them, for their children, and we need to do everything as a community that we can to provide information, and dial that sense of fear down.”

“From my perspective, the town is not conducting itself any differently under this presidency, than the previous presidency,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who said the town would not sign agreements with the federal government to have town police carry out federal immigration enforcement. “From our point of view, we will continue to carry out business as though nothing has changed.”

“The other side of this is we don’t operate in isolation here,” added Mr. Cantwell, who said that if an individual has committed a serious crime and is flagged by ICE for detention, then town police would heed that order.

“I have not spoken to anyone, including those concerned with changes in policy and the impact it is having on our immigrant community, who does not expect we will not enforce the law in the Town of East Hampton, and if that means there is someone facing a serious charge and is requested to be released to ICE, we will carry out that responsibility,” he said.

East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo echoed Mr. Cantwell’s statements.

“We are extremely sympathetic to the nervousness and misinformation that is out there,” he said. “We really want to make sure that people understand as a victim or a witness your rights will be protected.”

Chief Sarlo has met with Ms. Perez and other advocacy organizations and said taking on federal immigration enforcement is not something the department has the ability to do.

“We are taxed enormously with what we are trying to do as a municipal police agency and to put another task on us like that would be unfair to the citizens of the town,” he said. “We will deal with criminals.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said incoming police chief Steven Skrynecki had met with Ms. Perez as well. Like Mr. Cantwell, he said despite the climate of fear in some communities, Southampton Town Police have not changed any of its policies.

“We are not doing anything differently than we have been doing,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who deferred most questions to Mr. Skrynecki, citing his experience in the field.

Mr. Skrynecki said at this point there have been no conversations with federal officials about the town police taking on federal immigration enforcement duties.

“I don’t like to speculate, and it may not come to pass at all, but if we were requested to do that we would have to evaluate the manpower and resources we have to accommodate that service.”

If an individual is flagged by ICE and a judicial warrant has been issued to hold that person, or deliver them to court, Mr. Skrynecki said the department would be bound by law to do so. In the case of an administrative hold — where an outside agency including ICE and other county, state or federal authorities requests the detention of an individual — he said the department would take “an initial action to assist that law enforcement agency,” but on a case-by-case basis would have to determine its authority to hold someone.

“We recognize that to maximize public safety in a community we need and require the support of the Hispanic community,” he said. “We need them to feel free to report crimes to us without fear that there will be some query to their immigration status, we need them to feel comfortable coming forward as witness to a crime and our current policy is and will remain we will not be asking questions about immigration status under those circumstances. We hope that resonates with people.”

Sag Harbor Village Police Chief AJ McGuire said his department did not have the resources to carry out immigration enforcement, and, like Southampton Town, would need to evaluate requests to hold someone charged with a crime on a case-by-case basis. That said, like the other police chiefs, he said members of the Hispanic community should know police remain a public safety force that offers everyone support.

“There is no reason to be afraid of police,” he said. “We don’t take an individual’s immigration status into consideration when someone needs help. No one should be afraid to go to the police when they need us.”

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