Westchester Approves Law to Protect Immigrants

Immigrant families celebrate in front of the Westchester County office. (Photo via El Diario)

On Monday, the Westchester County Board of Legislators passed the Immigration Protection Act (IPA), a measure that will bring some peace of mind to the growing immigrant community, whose members feel threatened by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies.

The project was initially approved in August of last year, but was vetoed by then-County Executive Rob Astorino, a Republican. The new administration, led by Democrat George Latimer – who took office on Jan. 1, 2018 – approved the IPA, heeding the plea of the immigrant community.

The organization Make the Road New York (MRNY) promoted the IPA bill from its inception. The law seeks to protect immigrants from President Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant policies.

The IPA prohibits county employees from using its resources to carry out the job of federal immigration authorities, prevents county officials from asking employees about immigration status or country of origin when the information is not needed to perform the job, and forbids correctional facilities and parole officers in the county to hand over Westchester residents to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless there is a court order.

“As a survivor of domestic violence, I know firsthand what it is like to be afraid to go to the police for fear that they could be working with ICE. I am very happy to see that the county’s legislators approved IPA, which will show immigrants like me that this county is finally on our side and that it will help restore our trust in the local police so everyone can be safer,” said Danny Ortega, a member of MRNY and resident of Westchester.

MRNY pointed out that the IPA fully complies with federal law and that it regulates the level of voluntary cooperation between county agencies and federal immigration agents. They added that the local police cannot act as federal immigration officials.

Theo Oshiro, deputy director of MRNY, stressed that the approval of the bill marks an important victory for all Westchester residents.

“By drawing a bright line between the local police and immigrants, Westchester County has made it clear that it refuses to take part in Trump’s deportation raids, which are ripping immigrant families apart. We are proud to see our county come together to promote trust between county officials and all Westchester residents, which leads to better public safety for all,” said Oshiro.

According to the New York Immigration Coalition, studies have demonstrated that immigrants are more reluctant to report crimes when they fear that the police could act as immigration agents. Indiscriminate, aggressive repression against immigrants on the part of the Trump administration has led to dramatic reductions in the number of reported crimes among immigrants across the country. This decrease makes criminals harder to catch, putting the safety of all local residents at risk.

Organizations such as Neighbors Link, Pace Law School’s Immigration Justice Clinic, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Immigration Coalition and the Westchester Hispanic Coalition, as well as local legislator Catherine Borgia, are among IPA’s main sponsors.

Westchester County, located north of New York City, has a population of 980,000 people.

  • 250,000 – 24.4 percent – of them are Hispanic.
  • 60 percent came from Guatemala and Mexico.

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