Mayor Steve Noble said this week the city’s police commission may adopt policies outlined in a memo issued last week by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman intended to safeguard the rights of undocumented immigrants.
The memo comes two weeks after the Kingston Common Council passed a controversial resolution to declare the city a “sanctuary community” for immigrants regardless of legal status.
Also, the mayor said on Wednesday in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order directing agencies to examine federal funds that could be cut off to some 300 sanctuary cities nationwide that he didn’t think Kingston’s flow of federal money would be cut off.
Schneiderman, a onetime state senator whose district encompassed parts of Manhattan’s heavily Latino Washington Heights neighborhood, drafted the memo entitled “Guidance Concerning Local Authority Participation in Immigration Enforcement and Model Sanctuary Provisions.” The document offers guidelines and legal strategies for communities, like Kingston, that have declared themselves “sanctuary jurisdictions” for the undocumented.
The memo offers eight basic strategies that Schneiderman said could be used to protect the rights of illegal immigrants without running afoul of federal law. The strategies include barring local law enforcement from acting solely to enforce federal immigration law and allowing local police to ignore requests from immigration authorities to detain a suspect absent a judicial order. The memo also suggests that local law enforcement agencies not provide immigration authorities access to people in custody solely to investigate their immigration status and that they limit the collection of immigration-related data and sharing of information with federal immigration authorities.
The memo’s legal basis relies on the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits the ability of the federal government to mandate action by states and localities, as well as the “home rule powers” of the state Constitution, which allows localities to enact laws and policies as long as they are not inconsistent with state law.
Schneiderman said he drafted the memo in anticipation of an immigration crackdown by Trump. The guidelines, he said, could help protect immigrant communities from “over-reach” by federal authorities and would insulate municipalities from lawsuits over potentially unconstitutional immigration enforcement practices.
“Public safety relies on trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Schneiderman wrote. “No local law enforcement agency should have to undercut that trust just to carry out Donald Trump’s draconian immigration policies.”
Earlier this month, a split vote on the Common Council resulted in the passage of a non-binding resolution affirming Kingston’s status as a “sanctuary city.” The resolution was sought by a coalition of local clergy and backed by Mayor Steve Noble. The resolution did not change city law or enact any new policies; rather, it expressed support for the Kingston Police Department’s longstanding unwritten policy of not inquiring about the immigration status of people during routine interactions.
Despite the lack of substantive policy changes, the “sanctuary city” resolution faced fierce resistance from some city residents who argued that the statement amounted to an endorsement of lawlessness. Opponents also argued that the resolution could put the city in the crosshairs of a Trump administration that has threatened to withhold federal funding from cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts. Some 350 supporters and opponents packed the council chambers to argue the issue before the council passed the resolution by a vote of 5-3.
“I felt like it was the right thing to do,” said Noble. “But clearly there are some philosophical differences.”
Noble said the Attorney General’s policy guidelines confirmed his earlier belief that there were a number of steps that the city could take in line with the resolutions stated goal of protecting immigrant communities. Noble said he had already been in contact with Schneiderman’s office to discuss the memo and potential changes to the city’s police protocols.
“[The memo] makes us feel more comfortable,” said Noble. “We did our homework, we checked our facts and the Attorney General’s statement is confirmation of that.”
Noble said he plans to discuss the memo with the city’s police commission to determine if parts, or all, of Schneiderman’s guidelines and policies could be incorporated into the manual that governs KPD operations. The changes, he said, could be enacted without further legislative action.
“I don’t think it has to go to the Common Council or anything,” said Noble. “It’s more of an internal change.”
Noble’s commitment to the sanctuary city concept could be put to the test sooner rather than later, in the wake of Trump’s executive order. Kingston receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal money each year under the department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program. But that money is an entitlement tied in to demographic and socioeconomic conditions and it is unlikely the administration could cut off the funding at will. The city also receives federal grants for everything from transportation projects to public safety. It is unclear if or how that funding could be impacted by the executive order.
In a statement Wednesday, Noble said he was unconcerned by threat of a cutoff in federal funds. He noted that the memorializing resolution passed by the council did not break the law or do anything to undermine the authority of federal law enforcement agencies.
“Based on the New York Attorney General’s guidance and the basic principles of any real democracy, we do not anticipate being stripped of our federal funding,” Noble wrote.