The situation with Matthew Rojas recently exposed weaknesses in the New Paltz town law intended to provide sanctuary to illegal aliens by preventing town employees with cooperating with agents of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau (ICE). Rojas was picked up on his way into the New Paltz town court on November 27 to answer charges of marijuana and cocaine possession. As someone listed under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, he could be deported if convicted of a felony, which the cocaine charge was, but had he made it inside, he would have learned that the charge was being reduced.
Town Board member Dan Torres believes that by detaining Rojas in this manner, ICE agents deprived him of his fifth and tenth amendment rights. In addition, as he explained during the December 6 Town Board meeting, the apprehension sends a message that those here without documentation cannot use the court system safely, rendering them unable to seek justice for themselves and making them more vulnerable to crime. While many, including Barack Obama who instituted the DACA policy, are particularly sympathetic toward those who were brought to the United States illegally as children, a common alternate perspective is that those who violate immigration law should not enjoy the rights of those in this country legally, particularly citizens. Court decisions, thus far, support the former over the latter point of view.
What Torres now proposes is a new law which would prevent ICE agents from making arrests on town property without a judicial warrant. Typically, they generate their own documents, called a civil detainer, without using the oversight of a judge. There is little case law in this area, Torres found when speaking to attorneys, but “we do have the authority to pass such a law.”
The natural next question is whether this would result in a lawsuit which must be defended at taxpayer expense, but Torres thinks not. Only ICE officials would have the legal standing to sue, he said, and should that occur, he is confident attorneys would come forward willing to represent the town pro bono, as such a case could be used to build one’s professional reputation.