Ulster Sheriff vows to not help ICE detain immigrants

Juan Figueroa (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

As part of its mission to engage with local government for what it sees as a just and transparent process that truly represents the constituents, the local advocacy group Ulster People for Justice & Democracy featured two guests, Jen Drake of the Dyson Foundation and Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa, at its monthly meeting on Monday, June 17 at the Rosendale Community Center. On the agenda were two important issues: the 2020 U.S. Census and the new immigration enforcement policy implemented by Figueroa.

Drake described the importance of the census and the many questions and risks surrounding it. A key issue is the Trump administration’s intention to add the question about whether one is a U.S. citizen, which could lead to a significant undercount. “Large immigrant communities could lose out on representation and funding,” said Drake. Dozens of states, cities and municipalities have responded by suing the federal government. The case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by the end of this month.

Drake said the Dutchess-based Dyson Foundation, which funds nonprofits in six Hudson Valley counties, is committed to “examining the ramifications of an undercount, how we can support a complete count, and what funding is available to help.” The census is written into the Constitution — specifically, the requirement that the U.S. government count every person in the nation every 10 years — and was once described as “the largest peacetime mobilization of Americans.” The results determine two things: the distribution of $700 billion of federal funding and the distribution of political power, i.e. the number of seats each state gets in House of Representatives. The upcoming census is particularly important for New York, which is at risk of losing one seat and could lose two if our population is undercounted, noted Drake. 


Besides the citizenship question, there are other serious concerns. Drake said because the previous census director stepped away after the presidential election and wasn’t replaced for over a year, the Census Bureau was under-resourced right when it needed to start making the push for 2020. The Trump administration also attempted to limit the bureau’s funding. The 2010 census cost $13 billion and estimates were that the 2020 census would cost $20 billion, Drake said. But “the Trump administration wanted to keep the funding flat,” and although Congress approved more money, there’s still a question whether it’s adequate.

There’s another very significant issue: the 2020 Census will be the first that’s online, which means “the system needs to be incredibly robust from a security and systems standpoint,” Drake said. People will receive a postcard with a unique identifier that will direct them to go online and complete the census; they can also call in. If they don’t do anything, they’ll get a second postcard as a reminder, and if they still don’t respond, they’ll eventually receive a paper document.

“People have a lot of concerns about this, including data privacy,” said Drake. “Will people feel safe going online? We’ve seen that tech can be a weakness, and whether the investment by the government is sufficient [to ensure the online form is effective] remains to be seen.”

Regarding the citizenship question, there are questions about the way it was introduced, she added. “Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross oversees the Census Bureau, and he asked that the question be added. Typically, the way a question gets added happens years in advance. Scientists and statisticians discuss and test it. But this was done precipitously.” Ross’ motives have been further called into question by the discovery of writings by a now-deceased Republican congressman affiliated with the Trump administration that showed “how the census could be used to suppress black and brown people by adding the question of citizenship” — evidence that the Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in their decision, Drake noted.

The timing of that decision is another concern: “You need millions of postcards for the 2020 Census, which means they have to be printed starting next month … if the Supreme Court doesn’t issue a decision by the end of June, I don’t know what will happen.” 

While many undocumented immigrants will likely be afraid to answer the citizenship question, whether you are a citizen or not should not be a reason for concern, given that “in theory, census data exists in a black box and is not accessible to any part of the government, outside the Census Bureau,” said Drake. Part of the education process is letting people know accessing their data from the census is against the law, she added. She said that Dyson will be making funds available “for local trusted messengers to speak to people in their own communities in their own language.”

Drake said the Census Bureau has begun recruiting partners and enumerators — the people who knock on doors — of which 300,000 will be hired. The online process will begin in March and April and the results are supposed to be delivered to Congress by Dec. 31, 2020. “Once they have a count, the government does a statistical analysis to see of they did a good job by comparing the numbers to the records of births and deaths and information from local health departments,” Drake said. In the 2010 census, the government estimated that 1.5 million children were missed (“people think they’re too young and don’t include their children”) but despite that miscount, 2010 was the most accurate census ever, she said.

Figueroa: Deputies won’t enforce immigration law

One of newly elected Sheriff Juan Figueroa’s first priorities was issuing a general order for Immigration Enforcement to his 300-person staff on February 27.

“I’ve instructed the personnel in my office not to inquire about the immigration status of any person unless it’s necessary to investigate criminal activity,” Figueroa said. “Any interaction they have to document. We will not be performing any enforcement of immigration law. Service personnel may respond to a judicial warrant issued by a court or a judicial subpoena,” but not a civil immigration warrant, which is issued by ICE [U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement] or CPB [Customs and Border Patrol]. “We shall not provide ICE or Customs and Border Patrol access to resources if ICE is enforcing federal law.”

A month into his term, “I got an email form from ICE, which said they wanted to meet. I said, ‘Sure, but in Ulster County I believe in the due process of the law.’ I never got a response back,” Figueroa said with a chuckle. Under the new policy, “when somebody gets stopped, we don’t ask their immigration status. The policy is about due process, the rights of persons who are arrested or detained. Everybody has the right to go before a judge and jury. I’m a big supporter of the Constitution, and I represent the people of this county. If you commit a felony, whether you’re undocumented or otherwise, you go to court.”

Specifically, the four-page policy says: 

“Sheriff’s Office personnel shall not stop, question, interrogate, investigate, or arrest an individual based solely on the any of the following: actual or suspected immigration or citizenship status; or a ‘civil immigration warrant,’ administrative warrant or an immigration detainer in the individual’s name, including those identified in the National Crime Information Center database.”

Further, it states, “Sheriff’s Office Personnel shall not inquire about the immigration status of an individual, including a crime victim, a witness or a person who calls or approaches the police seeking assistance, unless necessary to investigate criminal activity by that individual” in which case the inquiry must be documented, and “they shall not perform the functions of a federal immigration officer or otherwise engage in the enforcement of federal immigration law.”

The policy also prevents personnel from honoring “detainer requests from federal agents.” The only instances in which Sheriff’s Office Personnel “may respond affirmatively to an ICE or CBP request for nonpublic information about an individual is if the request is accompanied by a judicial subpoena or judicial warrant, which is based on probable cause and is issued by a federal judge” — distinct from the civil immigration detainer described above.

The policy also applies to people in the sheriff office’s custody and “prevents use of office facilities to ICE or CBP officials for the sole purpose of enforcing federal immigration law.” Personnel “shall not inquire about or request proof of immigration status or citizenship when providing services or benefits,” unless such services or benefits are contingent upon immigration or citizenship status, the policy states.

“Things have changed drastically since [the Trump] administration took over,” Figueroa said. “A lot of people in communities of color are scared,” leading to “the old days of organized crime, because people would rather go to the godfather than law enforcement. We cannot go back to that.”

Figueroa said he discussed the policy with the sheriffs in Tompkins, in which sits the liberal enclave of Ithaca, and Albany counties, which have similar policies. “There are a handful of us,” he said, noting that all the surrounding counties’ sheriff offices “have a different philosophy.”


Figueroa also supports the Green Light Law (officially called the Driver’s Access and Privacy Law), which passed the State Assembly (and on Tuesday, was passed by the State Senate; Governor Cuomo was expected to the sign the bill into law). The law restores the right to obtain a driver’s license regardless of immigration status, a right that existed prior to 2001. With the passage of the new law, “safe individuals can get a license, get insurance, drive their kids to school and go to work,” he said. “It’s better for all of us.”

Addressing the overdose crisis

Figueroa said he’s applied for a grant, written with the assistance of a grant writer at SUNY New Paltz’s Benjamin Center, that would pay for a trailer equipped with a room and a bathroom designed to educate people about the signs of opioid addiction (such as syringes in empty toothpaste boxes, shoes missing laces and drugs hid in the empty battery compartment of an alarm clock). The trailer would be hauled to various events and locations, such as the county fair, and walk-through tours provided to the public. The grant would also pay for training police officers and crafting a plan to provide support to opioid addicts who are incarcerated, including enlisting mental health experts and a six-month follow-up after the person is released from jail. Such a program is desperately needed: Figueroa said that Ulster County has one of the highest overdose rates in the state, with a total of 166 overdoses and 56 deaths in 2018.

“We could also bring in the First Chance program, to get them employed,” he said. He explained that First Chance provides employment opportunities to first offenders age 20 to 32.

“We need to come together as a county,” Figueroa concluded. “Our enemies are taking advantage of us, and democracy is compromised. We need to include all citizens together. We are one nation and always will be.” 

There are 46 comments

    1. PeaceSouljer

      From a former Marine this is disgraceful behavior – how happy that we moved from New Yorkistan to the Constitutionally Great and Free State of Georgia. Illegal aliens deserve one thing – a one-way ticket to the border.

      1. Kat

        Thanks so much for getting the hell out of our state. Now if you could only stop whining about it online—nah, it’s okay, it’s not like you’re actually accomplishing anything. If you wanna waste your time whining like an impotent fool about a state you claim to not even live in anymore, go ahead. Have fun with that, honey. Everyone needs a hobby!

        1. Regbs

          The Marine accomplished serving the country and Constitution you hate and are a domestic enemy of. Illegal entry of the USA is a crime and perpetrators thereof are criminals and parasites.

    2. Taylor

      County sheriffs are bound by the Constitution, not the current presidential administration’s federal laws. You’d know that if you were as “logical” as you think you are. I bet you can’t even name whatever “law” you think exists, anyway.

      There’s a reason states get to govern themselves in this country. If you don’t like it here, you can always move!

      Best of luck. Perhaps do a little research before making a fool of yourself on the internet again, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

      1. Bill O'Wrights

        Elected officials, government employees to every level, are sworn in to uphold both the US constitution and the State’s Constitution. You raise your right hand and affirm or swear to it to the oath. Who is on the Supreme Court, is senator or representative, or head of the executive branch ain’t got nothing to do with it?

        You’re going to like it here in this country.

        1. Kat

          Did you mean to use a question mark at the end there? Your words seem to agree with Taylor (and they are correct) but the question mark seems to suggest sarcasm? One can never tell when one is being facetious in these uncertain times!

  1. A. Lincoln

    Can American citizens born here or naturalized choose which Federal Laws they will abide by or not? Ironic that the Civil War began over States’ rights, and now, we are moving back to that very point of inception.

    1. Kat

      The civil war did not begin over “states rights.” That’s a *thoroughly* debunked myth and you look like a fool for believing it.

      1. History is bunk!

        How exactly has it been debunked? I think pretty much anyone would agree that slavery was the issue the two sides disagreed about, but the mechanism that made a war necessary was the question of whether a STATE in this country could have slavery or if the federal government could decide that question. Then after that some states wanted to leave, and the federal government said they couldn’t and attacked. It didn’t matter *why* they seceded, they still would have been attacked.

        As Lincoln said, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

        Different groups discover the utility of the states rights argument (or any argument for local vs. federal control) whenever a law or supreme court case gives the federal gov’t power to do something people in a state or locality don’t want to happen. Take abortion. Elected majorities in some states would (and did) make it illegal. A supreme court case rule they couldn’t do that. If they seceded as a result, you could say they seceded over abortion, but more specifically you could say they seceded over the question of whether the federal government had the power to tell states they couldn’t outlaw something that a majority of people in that state consider the taking of a life (because otherwise they wouldn’t have seceded).

        I’ve never heard anyone make the argument that the civil war was over the southern states rights to do anything else other than continue slavery.

        1. Nancy Hanks

          “History is bunk.” was coined by Henry Ford, a renown anti-semite. That history is a mish-mash of facts, so to speak, is but one of the eight points of view of history.
          The other seven points of view of history include: cult of personality, geographic point of view, political dynasties, economic, religious, psychiatric and philosophical.
          Only the last three hold watah.
          Currently, the new paltz governments both town and local, have chosen to ignore Federal rulings on the Americans With Disabilities Act, in writing no less. Both claim that Home Rule at the village and town level need not acknowledge and accept Federal rulings on real property matters. It’s an issue to be added to the one you cite.
          As Lincoln said to them, “Do you mean to suggest, sirs, that by means of a species argument and a fantastic arrangement of words, a horse-chestnut is a chestnut horse?”

  2. Jp

    If people come here illegally, why should others attempt to come through the legal way and become citizens? I’m guessing those backing the sheriff also feel we should give them healthcare, foodstamps and welfare. NICE! Raise taxes, let’s do this. Idiots!!!

  3. k

    So I guess the sheriff is not following the immigration laws? Wasn’t he elected to enforce the law. We have plenty of immigration laws on the books, but it’s people like Mr Figueroa who don’t enforce and use them.

  4. Just Saying

    offering my opinion…

    I agree with you, the man took an oath of office to enforce the laws.. He needs to do his job! Just saying

    1. Kat

      He is enforcing the laws. This is completely legal.

      Maybe read a book once in a while instead of spending all your time whining online? You might know what a county sheriff’s duties actually are if you did.

  5. Stanley Hess

    Like it or not this is the platform on which the sheriff ran. He never made his views secret. A vast majority of the voters in this county elected him knowing that. Sorry that you aren’t in that majority.

    1. Kat

      Thank you! They’re loud, but they’re obviously not in the majority. All they can do is whine about it online.

      1. wowjustwow

        Everyone knows your type: All for inclusion until it comes to ideology. Garden variety progressive hypocrite.

  6. Southern Sawyer

    An elected law official is deciding which laws to uphold. WOW disgraceful. Why do illegal aliens get the free ride but if we tax paying citizens do anything illegal we are held to the whole law.

    Was there not a swear in to the post? Maybe the sheriff should re-read it to see what he swore to. Law is law to be upheld and the courts to decide validity or not.

    He should be charged maybe with aiding and abetting or interfering with governmental procedure. After all if we did not cooperate with the authorities in a criminal case we would be charged.

  7. Southern SAwyer

    Just another thought. Do we get to charge for housing ICE detainees? Seeing we lost the Green County prisoners any income would help defray the cost of the jail operations. If we are loosing this income that is a shame we will be sending them elsewhere as they will be detained anyway. And if local detainees are sent further away that would not benefit the families for access to the individual.

  8. Sane Person

    What about federal drug laws?
    How about federal firearms laws?

    Ulster country has less than 180,000 people, yet the Sheriff budget (not state troopers, local police, DEP) is $3 million for this year. Only 600,000 is for salaries, the rest is for retirement and 1.5 million (half!) Is for health insurance.

    Foreign citizens dont have rights or due process here, and elected officials shouldnt be advocating for them.

    The census should absolutely contain a citizenship question, and all voting should require ID, like Mexico does.

    1. JB

      You should double check your numbers. The budget is way more than 3 million. If you’re saying 600,000 is for payroll, they would have 12 employees at $50k each.

  9. Holly A Raskoskie

    So the Sheriff thinks it’s ok to break the law and come to AMERICA ILLEGALLY???? What is that teaching the people of Ulster county? That its ok to do illegal things? The Sheriff will turn a blind eye. If one law is allowed to be broken over and over then you can’t enforce any, wouldn’t be fair now would it. We can get rid of the sheriff’s department and save taxpayer money. Who voted him in? Disgraceful and a slap in the face to everyone that live legally in Ulster county…

  10. Roadshow Magic.

    In the article above Sheriff Figueroa states “I’ve instructed the personnel in my office not to inquire about the immigration status of any person unless its necessary to investigate criminal activity.”

    This not only sounds reasonable, but it is also Constitutional. The Ulster County Sheriff’s Department will seek to learn a person’s immigration status only if a crime is believed to have been committed. The Sheriff’s Department is not responsible for doing ICE’s job for ICE. ICE’s responsibilities are their Federal mandate.

    Figueroa additionally states that “service personnel may respond to judicial warrant issued by the court or on a judicial subpoena.” Clearly the Sheriff is doing his job properly; enforcing the law only when it is legally appropriate to do so. In this case when he is so ordered by the court.

    Sheriff Figueroa is also correct when he states that his policy respects due process, as well as “the rights of persons who are arrested or detained. Everybody has the right to go before a judge and jury.”

    In his adherence to the Constitution Figueroa is protecting the rights of every person in Ulster County.

    1. T. Jefferson

      Show me where, in the U.S. Constitution, it states that immigrants can not be asked of their immigration status, unless it involves criminal activity…

      1. DR

        *a person* cannot have their immigration status questioned unless they’re involved in a crime. you can’t just go up to someone you *think* is an immigrant and question their status (although it happens all the time).

      2. Roadshow Magic.

        I refer you to the Fourth Amendment. It states that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.” This is why the police cannot legally demand to know your status without probable cause.

        It is stated in the article that Sheriff Figueroa intends to “respond affirmatively to an ICE or CPB request for non-public information about an individual…if the request is accompanied by a judicial subpoena or judicial warrant, which is based on probable cause, and is issued by a federal judge.”

    2. J. Addams

      That’s great however, the U.S. Constitution only covers U.S. citizens, so, correct U. S. Citizen has these rights. Not so much Illegal aliens. To quote another poster, just sayin’…

      1. Roadshow Magic.

        That’s incorrect, J.

        In U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) the Supreme Court ruled that the term “person” under the Fifth Amendment applied to illegal aliens living in the United States.

        In Fong Yue Ting v. U.S. (1893), the U.S. Supreme Court held that Chinese laborers, “like all other aliens residing in the United States,” are entitled to the protections of the laws. (See Daniel Fisher’s Forbes online article of January, 2017.)

        In 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush held that the basic right of habeas corpus to challenge illegal detentions extends to non-citizens on foreign territory.

        The Constitution was also effectively applied to block the enforcement of Trump’s executive order on immigration, and Boumediene v. Bush was cited.

        There is also Plyler v. Doe (1982) to consider. This Supreme Court decision protected the rights of minors to a K-12 education regardless of their immigration status.

        In Reno v. Flores (1993), the conservative Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia wrote for the 7-2 majority that “it is well established that the Fifth Amendment entitles aliens to due process in deportation proceedings.”

  11. Just saying

    What do you expect him to do, he’s playing to his liberal base. He has to listen to them or they will dump him just like they did with the former sheriff… just saying

  12. Kat

    I’m glad to see that a few of Ulster’s residents still have brains, but I’m deeply disappointed by many of the comments I see here. It’s always the least intelligent who seem to be the loudest, unfortunately.

    Good thing all you can do is whine about it online. Have fun.

  13. DR

    Hats off to you Sheriff Figueroa !! Upholding the Constitution even when the current administration won’t 🙂

  14. Just saying

    Hey Kat ..

    just because someone disagrees with your way of thinking and voices their opinion they are least intelligent? WOW
    I thought this was a place were people can come and voice their opinions without being called names?
    I bet you have never whine in your life, right Kat?
    just saying..

  15. just saying

    BINGO Jp….. it just amazes me that when anyone disagree with “their” way of thinking they attack!! Just saying…

  16. One of many...

    Labels! it is all I hear, from everyone. Take sides be intolerant, label others who disagree with, do things different then, pray to a different deity, look different then, etc., etc., etc., then you, too ad nauseum. Divide and conquer is alive and doing just fine in this big ol’ nation of OURS. They have you all pitted against each other, and social media exasperates the divide. I remember when America was proud to be made up of every type of people from every type of background, and named ourselves, “The Melting Pot” of the world and truly believed that; that was, what made us greater, and stronger than any other nation. Today, we label, divide, and hate, hate, hate… Please, open your hearts, and more importantly, your minds, and look behind the curtain, and see that the great Oz, is only the rich, and corporate, along with the evil religious leaders, who work tirelessly, to keep our nation divided, as to keep us under their control, as conquered servants. Now, all this being said, we can not, I repeat, can not have an open border, so those who wish to hurt us, in whatever the many bad ways, I.E.: terrorists, drugs, criminal refuse, etc., that they may endeavor come into our country willy nilly, yet, we can not lose our compassion for those who come here looking for help, freedom, and quality of life. It is a thin line, indeed. I believe, that illegal aliens, are just that, illegal, so, I further believe, it is a dereliction of duty, for a law enforcement, to pick and choose, what laws, that he will enforce. When, an illegal alien, decides to not follow the correct path, laid out for them, by our generous, and free nation, or go through the correct vetting of the asylum processes, then they must live with that decision, and if caught must face those consequences, provided by law, as we all must do. Be kind, stop labeling others, reach out, listen and if you disagree, do not hate, and spew sophomoric wrath, but try to see the other side. Compromise is not a bad word, and this nation must get back, firmly, down the “middle of the road”, where we belong, not off to the left, or right. The games of our elected officials playing partisan games, and party loyalty, instead of what is best for their constituency, and nation, and instead vote their own agenda, or their party, or church agenda’s, and not what’s fair, right, and just, for everyone, and all America, But serve only a few. The two, or any party form of election process, is the mother of divide and conquer, even better than all these religions, that are there for division and not for moving the desires of some creator, who only loves you, and hates all who believe different, throwing stones at “sinners”, ludicrous, and they call that, of God., how foolish the sheeple can be. Keeping America off of our collective feet, is all the party system is meant to do, it is time to eliminate this fossil form of division, and start making those seeking government office to stand on their own platform, and not a party’s, and hold them to it. We are all, what makes America a great nation, it is you that are: “… Of the people, for the people, and by the people.”, it is US, together, no labels, differences, or being the one who has it right, and the ones, who have it wrong, but one nation. Be one in solidarity with Our fellow man, and not a divider and hater. Let’s work together, and take this nation back, for All of Us. United we stand, divided we fall! Stop labeling others, and change the world, only you can.

  17. Dr. Swinklehiemer-Swinklehiemer-Swinkledinklehiemer

    I call it climate of perception. In other words the way anything that is perceived by an individual, is subject too that individuals “climate”, so to speak. Therefore each of us, perceive the world, by all the intangibles that, just like weather, are manifested by a particular”climate”, so to each of our own realities, and just like every different environ has its own individual climate, so do we. Making all we perceive dictated by the climate where our own individual reality exists. Everything affects climate, when either talking of weather, or perception, small pressure changes can, ultimately bring on tsunamis, mild calms, or thunder storms. Yes, we each perceive things, hegemonized by the climate of our reality.

  18. Tony

    Sheriff, you are a disgrace to the shield!!! Didn’t you swear to uphold the Constitution??? You should be RECALLED!!!


    You were elected to follow the laws of the land not to pick and choose. What a bad example you are displaying for the youth of the county.

  20. David Radovanovic

    What’s with all the commenters not using their real names. Aren’t you proud enough of your comments?

Comments are closed.