Westchester County’s Democratic Caucus is mounting some political pressure in hopes of bringing to the floor a vote on legislation that would set forth a policy on immigration enforcement, despite it not even making it out of committee yet.
While the bill is still awaiting approval in three separate committees—Budget and Appropriations, Legislation, and Public Safety and Social Services—the Democratic Caucus is pushing for the committees to approve the proposal in order to move forward on a late night vote of the full 17-member county Board of Legislators on Monday, July 17.
County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, a Hastings-on-Hudson Democrat, said that with the bill sitting in committee since February, it’s urgent to keep the bill “on track” and avoid letting it go unaddressed through the summer. “Trying to put this off at this time of year is very dangerous,” she said, explaining that there are only a few meetings throughout the remainder of the summer, which might lead to the bill being pushed off until September at the earliest. “If things get pushed back, it will be a tactical move for those opposed to the bill to kill it.”
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.
As of press time, eight Democratic lawmakers have pledged their support for the pending legislation. The bill requires nine votes in order to pass through the Legislature and three additional votes to avoid a potential veto by County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican who is yet to take a public stance on the proposal.
“It’s safe to say that most Republican legislators want to see some type of legislation on this,” said Matt Richter, the press secretary for the Republican Caucus, adding that it’s likely some will vote in favor of the bill when it’s finalized. “We hope that everything moves quickly, but it’s complicated stuff, and it might not be prudent to push a vote if people aren’t ready.”
The legislation was initially pitched in February after uncertainty over whether or not Astorino would repeal an existing executive order relating to confidential information and immigration status that was signed by former County Executive Andy Spano, a Democrat, in 2006.
In Westchester County government, the incumbent county executive can legally repeal any executive order made by one of his predecessors.
The Democratic Caucus’ pending legislation was submitted in order to codify those existing policies adopted under Spano while also drawing from model ordinances put in place by the New York state attorney general’s office to alleviate concerns about the treatment of immigrants living in Westchester.
Establishing an immigration policy came in response to a nationwide effort led by Republican President Donald Trump to deport undocumented immigrants. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, has made 21,362 arrests from Jan. 20 through March 13 of this year, according to the most recent data from the federal agency, marking a 33 percent increase overall in arrests over the same time period last year. ICE arrested 16,104 people last year during the same window.
In addition to Spano’s policy, the new legislation would also prevent county police officers and officials from honoring requests made by ICE and Customs and Border Protection, which do not give rise to probable cause, and protects Westchester from liability due to false arrests and imprisonments.
County Legislator David Gelfarb, a Rye Brook Republican, told the Review that with the proposal not yet making it out of committee, it’s “unlikely” that there will be a vote on Monday, however.
“I’m very supportive of immigrant rights, but right now there are too many unanswered questions on this and there still has to be some changes,” he said. “I don’t think there will be enough time for a vote.”
This week, lawmakers met with Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett, commissioners from the departments of Social Services, Corrections, Public Safety, and Probation, and immigration advocates to discuss the proposal.
According to Joe Sgammato, the press secretary representing the Democratic Caucus, at that meeting, which was held on July 10, several “minor” changes were suggested to the bill.
County Legislator Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat, could not be reached for comment, as of press time.