WHITE PLAINS – A sweeping county legislative act “regarding the policy of the County of Westchester on Immigration Enforcement” is on the table for the county Board of Legislators.
The proposed act is intended to “… ensure that people are not stereotyped or discriminated against based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or national origin.” It does not prevent violent offenders from being detained.
The Committee on Public Safety and Social Services held an hour-long initial discussion on it Monday afternoon. The Committee invited representatives of the Westchester Hispanic Coalition, and the Mount Kisco-based Neighbors Link Community Law Practice.
Among those in the photo are Young (center, in black) and Merton (right)
Also invited, Professor Vanessa Merton, who teaches and directs the Immigration Justice Clinic at Pace University law school.
“Congratulate the board on taking unequivocal action to provide some, to do what you can do, in this field, to provide some assurance to our immigrant community,” Merton said, in her opening remarks. “But, I also want to stress that I see this bill as a beginning of a process, not the end of it.”
Hispanic Coalition attorney Jessica Young said while the county is moving forward, there are issues with attitudes at the federal level she says have the effect of victimizing a segment of the county’s population who are taxpayers, families, community members.
”The federal government currently is pushing a narrative that dehumanizes and criminalizes the immigrant community with terms like ‘documented’ and ‘undocumented’,” Young said. Among the suggestions made is for police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to not ask people they encounter in an official capacity what their “country of birth” is.
Merton said there is also a concern at the local level that may have a lot to do with uncertainty over policy.
“You do not want county law enforcement getting involved in trying to figure out the morass of law and figure out how to apply what standards to whom.”
Legislature Chairman Michael Kaplowitz said another part of the challenge is getting immigrants to understand and accept that a lot is different here than in the countries they left.
“In many of these countries from which the immigrants are coming, the police are something to be feared,” Kaplowitz said. “So, part of the assimilation process could be that our police aren’t the same police that you may be used to dealing with in your home country. These are people who are here to protect you, who are here to serve our communities.”
Committee Chairman Ben Boykin called it a “great initial discussion” that will be continued.