By Tom McDermott
At the April 5 City Council meeting, Rye joined a number of New York State and Westchester County municipalities in trying to create a policy towards immigrants. To that end, City Councilmember Danielle Tagger-Epstein, liaison to Rye’s Commission on Human Rights, introduced a draft resolution regarding Rye and its “Policy Towards Immigrants or Citizenship Status.” Both Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran and Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson assisted the Commission in drafting the resolution.
In opening the discussion, Tagger-Epstein said, “Clearly there’s an unease with what’s going on at the federal level and we are seeing the effects in Westchester.” The resolution, as currently drafted, states as one aim to “alleviate any tensions between various groups within and outside the City,” wording that has already raised some questions from other Councilmembers and residents.
Since much of the resolution sets forth Rye police policies and procedures, Commissioner Corcoran was called upon to give his perspective. He stated that Rye police currently have no policy on immigration enforcement; that the draft is “very much in line with what Westchester County police are doing, but that it goes further in regard to when a Rye police officer could actually inquire about a person’s immigration status; and, “it is important to make sure that serious offenders are not slipping through the cracks.”
Addressing the Council, Anthony Piscionere, Chairman of the Rye City Republicans, said that certain portions of the resolution made a lot of sense, but certain others made no sense whatsoever. He pointed out his difficulties with the section which defines when a Rye police officer “shall not stop, question, interrogate, investigate, or arrest an individual.” An officer would not be able to stop someone solely on the basis of “actual or suspected immigration or citizenship status” <or> a national crime database or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer or administrative warrant that did not have a judicial warrant. A Rye police officer, however, would not be limited from inquiring about status when the officer makes an arrest for any felony under NYS penal law.
According to Piscionere, requiring a judicial warrant might allow a person that has already been deported to come back into the country and to possibly commit a crime and be let go by Rye police. He cited a recent chase incident in Rye and said, “This is tying police officers hands to enforce the law. I’m not sure what problem we’re addressing here.”
In a pointed discussion, Tagger-Epstein told Piscionere that the resolution closely followed the New York Attorney General’s guidelines, and that a recent judicial decision meant ICE detainer requests can no longer be made without a judicial warrant.
Piscionere cautioned the Council to take its time and carefully review the resolution before voting.
A number of residents spoke fervently in favor of the resolution, urging the Council to protect law-abiding people and to allow police to focus on other more important duties. Alison Relyea told the Council that there was no intention to allow serious criminals to avoid being detained. “We have to protect one another,” she said. There was a general concern for immigrant residents of Port Chester who might be employed in or visiting Rye who might hesitate to call emergency services, although no actual incidents were described.
The discussion among Councilmembers was tense at times, with Mayor Joe Sack, Julie Killian, and Terry McCartney voicing displeasure with Tagger-Epstein at what they viewed as negative comments on their attention to the resolution.
This week, Killian told the paper that the resolution “seems to have general support; but it’s a matter of getting the language right.” Kristen Wilson confirmed that the resolution closely follows the guidance of the state’s Attorney General and what other Westchester and New Jersey municipalities have done. Wilson, Corcoran, and Tagger-Epstein shared the information with the Commission. “Our version is much more specific, and may be more restrictive,” she said.
Discussion of the resolution will continue at the May 3 Council meeting.