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GOP chair opposes proposed immigration policy

The city of Rye’s proposed ordinance establishing a policy on immigration enforcement has drawn opposition from the city’s Republican leadership, despite support from the city’s public safety commissioner.

Even with a general consensus on the City Council to have an immigration policy, further discussion on the proposal, which was put forward by Councilwoman Danielle Tagger-Epstein, a Democrat and chairwoman of the city Human Rights Commission, has been adjourned until May 1 as a result of questioning from Rye City Republican Chairman Tony Piscionere.

Piscionere told the Review that he opposes several areas of the proposal which aims to prevent Rye police from questioning and arresting individuals on the basis of their citizenship status. “Nobody’s in favor of racially profiling, but I’m concerned that our City Council wants to send a message, not only to our police, but to Rye residents that we shouldn’t honor what the federal government wants,” he said.

It comes as a response to an initiative that was launched in January by President Donald Trump, a Republican, to deport undocumented immigrants nationwide.

As many as 17,000 people were deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, after the first full month of Trump’s presidency, according to the federal department’s most recent report.

Although there is a general consensus among Rye City Council members to have a policy on immigration, the city’s Republican Party chairman is opposed to the recent proposal from Democratic Councilwoman Danielle Tagger-Epstein to establish one. Photo courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Although there is a general consensus among Rye City Council members to have a policy on immigration, the city’s Republican Party chairman is opposed to the recent proposal from Democratic Councilwoman Danielle Tagger-Epstein to establish one. Photo courtesy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Tagger-Epstein’s immigration proposal intends to encourage nondiscriminatory practices within the Police Department by prohibiting city police from questioning and interrogating individuals on the basis of one’s suspected immigration status. It also aims to reassure all immigrants in the community that it’s safe to call emergency services.

“The whole thing is superfluous and I’m not convinced this will even impact our residents,” said Piscionere, who explained that the language of the law would instead protect people with criminal records. He said that while there aren’t many immigrants in Rye, the language of the proposal would prevent police questioning of individuals who are suspected to be undocumented immigrants.

Piscionere told the Review that he’s also not in favor of the provision that prohibits the Police Department from incarcerating individuals with an ICE detainer request in their name, among a number of others items in the proposal.

However, that provision would prevent the city’s police force from abridging the Fourth Amendment, said Rye City Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran. The Fourth Amendment protects people from arbitrary arrests and unreasonable search and seizures, and sets a policy on search warrants.

“Obviously this policy is a work in progress, but we don’t want to go down the path of holding an individual in a cell without having probable cause and a [judicial] warrant,” said Corcoran, who added that it would also be problematic to inquire about immigration status to those seeking to help the department by reporting crimes.

The policy aims to prohibit city police from inquiring about a person’s immigration status for crime victims and witnesses. If passed, however, it would grant the Police Department the ability to question immigration status and respond to detainer requests from ICE for individuals charged with felonies or drunk driving charges.

Corcoran, who oversees operations for both the city’s police and fire departments, said the proposal was written incorporating guidelines that were established by New Jersey’s attorney general in 2007. Corcoran was hired away from West Orange County Police Department in New Jersey at the beginning of 2016.

The public safety commissioner was involved in helping draft the proposal, along with Tagger-Epstein, City Attorney Kristen Wilson, and members of the city Human Rights Commission.

As of press time, there are several other municipalities in Westchester County that already implement a policy on immigration or are seeking to enforce one. The village of Irvington passed a law that prevents local police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities in March.

The Westchester County Legislature’s Democratic caucus recently introduced the Immigration Protection Act, which also aims to prevent the county’s law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities for the sole purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws. That proposal is pending approval from the committees on Budget and Appropriations, Legislation, and Public Safety and Social Services.

Additionally, the towns of North Salem and Bedford have vowed not to enforce federal immigration laws.

“This resolution is about our values and expression of how we balance caring for the vulnerable with assuring public safety,” Tagger-Epstein said. “We may not be quite there, but we are close to having a strong resolution that speaks to these needs.”

Rye City Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican who questioned the proposal during the most recent City Council meeting, declined to comment on the matter.

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