Letter: More respect in immigration debate, please

In the April session of the Ulster County Legislature, fellow Democratic legislators Bartels, Delaune, Donaldson, Greene, Rodriguez and I introduced Resolution No. 138, “Creating A Policy To Maintain A Safe, Inclusive Government And Ensure The Protection, Order, Conduct, Safety, Health, And Well-Being Of All Persons In Ulster County.” The resolution was based on guidance from Attorney General (AG) Schneiderman on model legislation that is consistent with current federal law to limit law enforcement and local agency participation in federal immigration activities.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is not a crime for undocumented immigrants to remain in this country. The Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution limits the federal government’s ability to take action except when there is a judicial warrant for specific criminal offenses. The Ulster County Charter gives the legislature the right to set policies for other elected county officials in Ulster County. In the case of the sheriff, we can do so except where it is “inconsistent” with his other mandates. The attorney general agrees, and has concluded that local governments can restrict their officers and employees from inquiring into a person’s citizenship or immigration status, unless otherwise required by law.

Ulster County communities are home to some of the fastest growing immigrant populations per capita in New York State. Our main economic sectors are highly dependent on immigrant labor. Agriculture, food service, hospitality, tourism and many other industries would suffer significantly without the immigrant labor force participation. The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) found that “deportation would immediately reduce the nation’s GDP by 1.4 percent, and ultimately by 2.6 percent, and reduce cumulative GDP over 10 years by $4.7 trillion. Because our community has a higher than average number, the impact of anti-immigrant policies would be even more damaging.


According to studies by Governing Magazine and the Pew Research Center, immigrant communities have lower crime rates and utilize fewer social services than native-born populations. Immigrant communities, like those of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, are seeking a better life. They are here to invest in and grow our communities.

Last night, Tuesday, May 2, Resolution 138 was defeated in committee. I brought a great deal of evidence and clear legal backing to the meeting, but was not permitted to discuss them. In the past few months, there has been a significant decrease in bi-partisan discussion on the issues that cross party lines and can affect us all. We should be open to such debate and work more closely on these issues by understanding them more fully.

In other words, we all lose if we do not treat the immigrants in our communities, and one another, with the respect and trust that we all deserve.

Jennifer Schwartz Berky

County legislator


There is one comment

  1. Paul D.

    Speaking as a son of immigrants, Immigrants should first have the respect for our nation by following our immigration laws, rather than skirt them. Previous generations respected these rules and when not, were dealt with immediately. Why should it be different now? Willful negligence of our nations laws are normally grounds for lawful actions to be taken. In this case, lawful action should represent deportation of illegals, and the removal or imprisonment of government leaders who are aiding and abetting. Local and federal leaders are setting a terrible precedent for sidestepping and cherry picking the law. This will inevitably lead to the deterioration of respect for our nation and its laws.

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