There is widespread support for New Paltz becoming what may be the first sanctuary town, both on the town council and among other residents. That much was clear from the public hearing and related discussion during the April 6 town council meeting. However, some wording in the initial draft will need to be updated, and a new hearing will be held April 20. Based on comments made by the elected officials, it should be passed unanimously.
During the hearing, resident Lou Cariola said he wasn’t opposed to the policy of not asking about immigration status, but once it’s enshrined as a law the only people who can break that law are police officers. “What are the penalties?” he asked.
That wasn’t a concern to Galo Vasquez, who said that law enforcement officers are always expected to know a law well enough to be able to enforce it. He preferred to focus on the benefits, such as empowering the targeted individuals to call the police in need.
Immigration attorney Celeste Tesoriero said that rather than so-called sanctuary status endangering police officers, it is a “positive for everyone” because crime rates drop as the number of people willing to call the police increases. “Nobody knows about the policy,” she said; information is passed “by word of mouth or through headlines.”
“I hope to see this law passed,” said Margaret Human, who called it a “strong stance” extending welcome to all people.
That welcome wasn’t well received by Denis McGee, who said, “I’m dead set against it.” His argument did not target any particular group of people, instead focusing on the process. “I agree the laws need changing,” he said, “but go to Congress” to address federal legislation.
McGee’s concern that this action was itself illegal was refuted by Michael Zierler, who referenced an attorney general position that there exists “broad authority” not to participate in enforcing federal laws using local police officers.
“I’m an immigrant myself,” said Andrew Dalton, but coming from Canada he’s “the wrong color to worry” about presidential immigration policies many believe to be racially motivated. Speaking of those policies, he observed, “I find this whole thing racist that’s going on.”
A number of people rose largely to express their pride in town council members for considering this legislation. If passed, this may be the first local municipal law of its type in the United States. A map posted to the web site of the Center for Immigration Studies has labels for states, cities, and counties where such legislation has been passed. Sanctuary cities can be defined as ones where police officers do not routinely ask for proof of legal residence in the country.
One point of language that concerns Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres is the use of the word “illegal.” While it’s accurate and grammatically correct to use it as an adjective, Torres finds its use as a noun (e.g., calling a person “illegal”) offensive. “Humans are not illegal,” he said. “That phrase is abhorrent.”
When the idea was proposed, council members Jeff Logan and Marty Irwin were skeptical that passing a more expensive law would accomplish anything that existing policy does not. Each of them has become a supporter of the law. Irwin said he’s now satisfied they wouldn’t be passing an illegal law, and Logan said, “We’re a lot more comfortable.”
Concerns about enforcement have been heard. According to Torres, the next draft will reflect disciplinary clauses in police contracts, or as already provided for by law. Once that update is reviewed during another hearing, it’s likely to pass without opposition.