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County executive approves immigration legislation

Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer has signed a bill that protects undocumented immigrants from federal law enforcement agencies.

Dubbed the Immigration Protection Act, the county executive approved the legislation on March 20, following its approval in the county Legislature by a 11-3 vote. The bill was crafted by county Legislator Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat who proposed a similar bill last year that was vetoed by former County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer signs into law the Immigration Protection Act, which was approved by an 11-3 vote in the county Board of Legislators earlier this month. Photo courtesy county executive’s office

The new policy will prevent Westchester law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal agencies such as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, and Customs and Border Patrol, as well as prevent county authorities from questioning individuals about their immigration status.

The legislation will also require county authorities to ignore detainer requests from federal immigration agents for individuals being held at Westchester County Jail, unless the requests are accompanied by a judicial warrant.

“This law makes all Westchester residents safer by increasing trust between communities and allowing Westchester law enforcement officials to focus on their job,” Latimer said in a statement.

The county executive added the legislation does not violate federal law and will not make Westchester a “sanctuary county.”

Representatives from county law enforcement, including the heads of the Public Safety, Corrections and Probation departments, all stated that they support the new law.

Michael Hagan, the president of the county Police Benevolent Association, said he appreciated how county lawmakers included law enforcement officials’ ideas in the legislation. “The input we had in this thorough process allowed for a measure that will allow us to do what we are tasked to do,” he said.

Despite support from county law enforcement, members of the Westchester Board of Legislators’ Republican caucus are maintaining that the policy will make Westchester incompliant with federal guidelines.

Earlier this month, Republican legislators Margaret Cunzio, of Mount Pleasant, and Minority Leader John Testa, of Peekskill, voted against the bill, and in doing so, said the county lost an opportunity to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security to discuss how to construct the Immigration Protection Act so that it would be on in line with federal law.

As of press time, it’s unclear whether the immigration law will make Westchester a sanctuary county, as an 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump does not indicate what makes a municipality a “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants. Several elements of the executive order, including one aspect that restricts federal funding for municipalities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities, are also being questioned about their constitutionality.

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