Proposed Town Legislation Would Bar Police from Aiding in ICE Deportations

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Angie, a John Marshall fifth grader, urges the East Hampton Town Board at its October 4 meeting to protect law-abiding Latinos from family separations and deportation by adopting legislation proposed by the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA). Minerva Perez photo

The Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, the support organization for Latinos known as OLA, has submitted proposed legislation to the town boards of Southampton and East Hampton that would bar local police from investigating, detaining or turning over anyone to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless a crime is involved or they are required to do so by state or federal law.

The supervisors in each town say they already follow similar guidelines by declining to deputize police as agents of ICE and by detaining non-U.S. residents in criminal cases, not because of their immigration status.

Called the Peaceful Communities Protection Act, the proposed legislation is similar to so-called “sanctuary city” codes on which it was modeled in San Francisco, Boulder, Hartford and elsewhere.

If adopted, the law would bar town police and employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status; using town facilities, funds, or personnel to detain undocumented immigrants; or passing on any information about anyone’s citizenship or immigration status to federal authorities unless the case involved a criminal matter and they were required to do so by law.

The legislation would direct town police not to “stop, question, interrogate, investigate, or arrest an individual” based on actual or suspected immigration status or the issuance of an administrative warrant or a “civil immigration detainer/hold request” by ICE or any immigration authority. Both are non-judicial directives issued by an ICE officer that a particular person should be deported.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said in an interview on Wednesday he did not believe the Town Board would take up the legislation. “I think the board feels the policies being carried out by the police department are correct” for protecting both civil rights and public safety, he said.

He took issue with the proposed legislation’s call for refusing to cooperate with ICE when it issues administrative, non-judicial warrants calling for police to detain a suspect. Southampton Town Police have detained five people on the basis of administrative warrants in the past year and half, and all involved criminal matters including assault and rape, he said.

“If ICE has a prior situation and ICE is looking for someone, we are cooperating. We’re not going to stop cooperating,” he said.

“There is this continuation of a sense that people are being detained and deported who are not causing any problems,” he also said. “That’s not the case … It’s important the public understands the police department’s policy is not leading to wholesale roundups of individuals who are undocumented.”

According to the proposed legislation’s preamble, its purpose “is to codify” each town’s existing policies aimed at “protecting and supporting” their “peaceful communities, ensuring [that] all residents have equal access to town services, and enhancing and facilitating” each “town’s commitment to community policing.”

“The formalization of this commitment in this legislation is an important step in communicating and strengthening the relationship of trust between” each town’s “police department and all town residents,” reads the legislation.

OLA’s executive director, Minerva Perez, told theSouthampton Town Board at its September 25 meeting that OLA would submit the proposed legislation by the end of that week. She released it to the Express on Monday, October 8, after she also had submitted it to the East Hampton Town Board following a presentation on October 4, when Ms. Perez appeared with more than 20 supporters.

The only response she has received so far to the proposal, Ms. Perez wrote in an email on Tuesday, was that officials say “they do pretty much all” of what the legislation calls for already.

“We are saying they should have no problem codifying that,” Ms. Perez wrote on Tuesday. “We need overt and clear protections for peaceful communities. We need that to come from the town board.”

Asked if she was hopeful the two boards would bring the proposal or something like it to a public hearing, she replied, “I’m a hopeful person or I couldn’t do this work.”

“As long as our full community knows that this will be a benefit to law enforcement as well as the general public safety of the towns,” she wrote, “I think even staunch opposition will see the reason behind legislation that reconnects the peaceful members of our community to working with and seeking out stronger connections to law enforcement.”

“Local elected positions might be the hardest roles to have,” she added. “I am pained by the assumption that they have no will. If we do not expect the best from our leaders, local or otherwise, we will get what we expect.”

Thirty speakers joined her at the September 25 Southampton Town Board meeting to urge the board to protect non-violent, non-criminal people from deportations and family separations by adopting the proposed legislation.

“You are governing during a crisis of conscience that rivals that of 1938” because the Latino community is “being terrorized” by the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown, Ms. Perez told the board.

“These times demand leadership, clarity, accountability and the political will to codify in legislation the deep love that I know that you all have for this community,” she said.

After she addressed the East Hampton Town Board on October 4, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc commented at the meeting, “Our policy is very clear”; Town Police “do not honor detainers of ICE or CBP,” the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Police act only in cases involving crime and judicial warrants that are issued by a court for probable cause, he added.

“Unless every member of this community feels safe to report a crime,” without the fear that police will investigate their immigration status, “none of us are safe,” the supervisor said.

Councilman Jeff Bragman agreed. “It’s important every one of us feels a part of the community,” he said. Speaking of the immigrant population, he added, “Our community is richer for having them as our friends and neighbors.”

Among the speakers, Bryony Freij, who said she worked mostly with Latino patients at East End Pediatrics, chided the board for not having done more to protect the community. “I was here 18 months ago,” she said, when OLA and its supporters appeared before both town boards to urge them to resist given aid to ICE, “and I left with so much hope that you guys were going to do something.” But “there’s been nothing,” she said.

A Latina woman named Patricia from East Hampton, with an interpreter’s help, told the board, “If you don’t protect good people, everybody loses.” She said that “bad, violent people are afraid of nothing, but good people are very afraid right now.” It is a good time, she said, to “make laws to protect the community.”

She spoke again at the East Hampton session, as did her daughter, Angie, a fifth grader at John Marshall Elementary School, repeating her mother’s assertion that “the bad and violent people are not afraid of anything” and “the good people are all afraid.” She added, “If you don’t protect the good people, everybody loses.”

Angie’s appearance prompted an emotional response from Councilman David Lys. “You should never live in fear, Angie. We will make sure our town is safe for all. We will police it correctly. We will police it vigilantly. No one should ever live for 60 years in fear,” like his father, whom he said had emigrated to the U.S. from Indonesia in the early 1960s and remains afraid to set foot in that country. “And I guarantee to you that what you just said has not fallen on deaf ears.” He concluded by telling her, “Don’t ever stop being brave.”

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”