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Committee Recommends “Public Safety for All” Resolution

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Committee Recommends “Public Safety for All” Resolution

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee today, by unanimous vote, recommended and sent on to the full Tompkins County Legislature a resolution to “ensure a safe, inclusive government and protection, order, conduct, safety, health, and well-being of all persons in Tompkins County.”

Committee Chair Anna Kelles, who drafted the detailed, five-page resolution regarding local practices related to Federal immigration law, said that, while many had tended to refer to this as a “sanctuary” resolution but that she is not describing it as such. Ms. Kelles said that the word “sanctuary” has been so co-opted and misconstrued that she was not using the word in the hopes that people will read for themselves the nature of the protections the resolution outlines that maximize protection and public safety for all residents, while aligning with existing federal laws and the US Constitution. She said it is an affirmative statement to the public that supports the existing practices of our law enforcement, and that all people in this area are protected.

An amendment to the recommended measure, advanced by Legislator Carol Chock and approved without dissent by the committee, states the intent succinctly—that “the Tompkins County Legislature affirms its support for the current practices of our Sheriff and our departments…as they pertain to the County’s aim to maintain a safe, inclusive government and the protection, order, conduct safety, health, and well-being of all persons in Tompkins County, and urges continued adherence to constitutional, federal, and state laws.”

Ms. Kelles said the measure recognizes the responsibilities of local law enforcement to preserve public safety, and the responsibility of the federal government to protect the entire country and its borders. She noted that much of the resolution was taken from guidelines provided by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, regarding the extent to which state and local jurisdictions are permitted under law to decline to participate in federal immigration investigation and enforcement, and that the Sheriff’s Office was consulted early-on regarding its provisions.

The measure, in part, affirms that County departments, officers, personnel, and agents should not engage in certain activities solely for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration law; that they should honor detainer requests from federal agents only in limited specified circumstances, such as those accompanied by a judicial warrant; and that, absent a judicial warrant, they will not disclose certain non-public, sensitive information about an individual.

Undersheriff Brian Robison said the resolution affirms policies to which the Sheriff’s Office already adheres, and that the office appreciates having had early input into its development. “While not of our making, it certainly affects us,” he said. The only concern was that the Office not be put in a position of violating the law ourselves, “and this does not do that,” he said.

Among wording changes approved before passage were addition of references to protected classes under state and federal law (sex, gender identity, victims of domestic violence, and familial status), and reference to the County’s established Title VI policy on non-discrimination and its Language Assistance Policy for individuals with Limited English Proficiency.