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Immigration policy passes Legislature; Astorino to veto

Shortly after the Westchester County Legislature approved a bill to set forth a policy on immigration enforcement, the county executive pledged to veto the legislation with support from top public safety officials.

The bill passed through the county Board of Legislators in a 10-5 vote on Aug. 7 after mounting political pressure from the county’s Democratic Caucus.

Known as the Immigration Protection Act, it aims to prevent the county’s emergency services from aiding the federal government in investigations made on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and national origin. The act comes in response to Republican President Donald Trump’s effort to deport undocumented immigrants.

Despite approval from two Republicans lawmakers, David Gelfarb, of Rye Brook, and Jim Maisano, of New Rochelle, the bill failed to capture a supermajority vote, which would have prevented the legislation from being vetoed by County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican.

County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican, plans to veto a bill known as the Immigration Protection Act, which passed the county Legislature in a 10-5 vote on Aug. 7. The bill aims to set a countywide policy on immigration enforcement for law enforcement officials. Photo courtesy Jerry McKinstry

“I’m opposed to this act because it puts public safety at risk,” the county executive said, explaining the legislation would put the county at odds with the federal government, and would ultimately dub Westchester as a “sanctuary” county for undocumented immigrant; one that limits its cooperation with the national government’s effort to enforce immigration law.

Astorino said the policy would cost the county an estimated $13 million in federal funding. “It all adds up to be a dangerous idea, and for those reasons I will veto this legislation,” he added.

The Immigration Protection Act was first pitched by county Majority Leader Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat, in February after uncertainty over whether or not Astorino would repeal an existing executive order relating to immigration status that was signed by former County Executive Andy Spano, a Democrat, in 2006.

In Westchester government, the incumbent county executive can legally repeal any executive order made by one of his predecessors.

The new legislation, in addition to piggybacking the current policy, would also prevent law enforcement officials from honoring requests made by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Customs and Border Protection, which do not give rise to probable cause. Additionally, it would protect Westchester from liability due to false arrests and imprisonments.

Legislator Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat, said Astorino’s comments are “full of falsehoods” and “fear mongering” meant to justify vetoing the legislation.

“The purpose of the Immigration protection Act is to protect Westchester residents and keep us all safer,” she added. “We looked very closely at the U.S. Constitution when drafting this, and based on rights already in the Constitution, it abides by federal law.”

The Democratic Caucus, which is made up of nine lawmakers, submitted the legislation to codify the existing policies adopted under Spano, not knowing the stance of the county executive and some top county public safety officials on the matter.

In a statement, George Longworth, the commissioner of the county Public Safety Department, called it a “bad and reckless idea.” “This bill is being passed over the objections of the [county] law enforcement authorities,” he said. “It will make Westchester families and police officers less safe.”

The bill was also denounced by Hector Lopez, the president of the Westchester Hispanic Law Enforcement Association, the county’s largest law enforcement group representing Hispanic officers, and County Attorney Robert Meehan, who first raised concerns about the law establishing a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants living in the county.

According to Joe Sgammato, the press secretary for the Democratic Caucus, the caucus plans to hold a vote to override a veto by the county executive.

However, in order to override Astorino, the Board of Legislators will need a supermajority vote. And with the need for one more lawmaker to pledge his or her support for bill, that supermajority remains in the hands of the Republican Caucus.

In a joint statement from the Republican Caucus, lawmakers echoed sentiments expressed by the county executive, saying the proposal is “well intentioned” but barely adds any “new protections” for the county’s immigrant community.

“The immigrant community should know that law enforcement is there to serve them and protect them regardless of their immigration status,” the statement read.

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