New Paltz sanctuary town declaration draws fire from police chief association

When New Paltz Town Council members held hearings on a law to become a so-called “sanctuary town” by formalizing a policy of not routinely investigating immigration status, it was the impact on police officers themselves that generated the only public criticism. Resident Lou Cariola pressed board members about the consequences of breaking such a law, and Saugerties police chief Joseph Sinagra — president of the Mid-Hudson Chiefs of Police Association — believes that one clause in particular goes too far, effectively requiring local officers to circumvent federal law.

Cariola’s concern was that turning what was a longstanding policy into law puts police officers in the crosshairs as the only people who could actually break it. That’s why he pressed board members on the penalties associated with such a law, and suggested that changes in how laws are enforced more generally might be an unintended consequence of the legislation. Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres, in sponsoring the bill, said that creating a law sends an unambiguous message to those in the country illegally that they may call police when other laws are broken without risking exposure of their own violation of current immigration law.

New Paltz Chief of Police Joseph Snyder addressed Cariola’s question when reached for comment. “This law does not only cover law enforcement, but includes every aspect of town government,” the chief clarified via e-mail. “All town employees are governed by this law and subject to discipline for violating provisions of the law. Violations by our members would be handled administratively per the collective bargaining agreement. Violation by other town employees would also be handled administratively per their agreements or town policy.”

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More generally, Snyder said, “The new law does not change any way we have done business in the past, so although I did not think it was necessary to implement an actual law, we will still conduct business as usual.”

Sinagra didn’t sound as confident about “business as usual” when he was reached for comment. While he considers himself a reformer when it comes to immigration law, there’s one section of the New Paltz legislation which doesn’t sit well with him, §16-6, which he said “states if the police department has someone in custody, and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents] want to interrogate, New Paltz police would not allow access… why deny access? We took an oath, [and] to violate our oath you’re violating the law. A local law circumventing a federal law is now how it’s supposed to work. Has the pendulum swung that far that we have forgotten what ‘illegal’ means? We’re not talking about legal immigrants.”

Torres stated during the debates that he was “offended” by the practice of referring to these persons as “illegals,” because “people are not illegal.” In his comments, Sinagra uses the term as an adjective to describe behavior, rather than as a noun referring to the people themselves.

“I’d rather see time and energy used to identify who is in this country illegally, and if they want to become citizens,” added the Saugerties chief. “If they do, we should provide the means. If we do, it behooves us to help them.” He believes that the real issues stem from those here illegally with no desire to become citizens, because they “have no reason to be here,” and have “motives full of ill intent.”

Sinagra said that he’s asked Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow driver’s licenses to be issued to individuals regardless of immigration status, because a license is a prerequisite to obtaining insurance. His other worry is more challenging to address: immunization. No child in the state can be denied access to education, he said, but there’s a double standard when it comes to required shots. Citizens won’t be admitted without proof, but non-citizens have up to a year to provide that proof, or a plan to get the necessary shots, which he believes is an example of the “double standard” created by trying to serve people in this population without directly confronting the fact that they are breaking a law by their presence.

In his response, it didn’t appear Snyder is worried about what his colleague Sinagra raised, either. “I understand his concern,” he wrote, “but I don’t think it will be an issue with us.” As Snyder recalled, “There has been conversation within the association about ‘sanctuary cities’ and the impact that it may or may not have if communities began to pass this law. For the most part, this does not have an effect on any agency. As law enforcement, there are certain things we must do with working with other authorities but again, I don’t feel this law will change anything that we presently do.”

Sinagra reiterated that but for §16-6, he considers the law well written, albeit one that may have been passed to boost election prospects.

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