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ICE should be banned from Nassau jail, groups say

Civil liberties and activist groups criticize Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's plan to allow ICE agents to remain temporarily on county jail grounds.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran drew new criticism Tuesday from civil liberties groups that condemned her decision to allow federal immigration agents to remain at the county's jail in East Meadow.

Late last year, county officials asked ICE to vacate a trailer on the jail's property by Jan. 31, without offering them a place to relocate. The agency objected, citing a yearslong collaboration with county officials on the property.

Law enforcement unions objected to ICE's eviction, and President Donald Trump criticized the move last week.

Curran said Monday a trailer used by ICE could remain for the time being on jail grounds while she reviews federal officials' proposal to work elsewhere on the property, away from the current location near the jail visitors center.

Eliana Fernandez, lead organizer for Make the Road New York, a Brentwood-based immigrant rights organization, said in a statement that Curran "should return to her original position of removing ICE from the jails, period.”

Fernandez said having ICE at the jail or any county facility “sends the message to Nassau residents that the county is in the business of aiding and abetting deportations that tear apart families — which is precisely the wrong message at a time when there is already heightened fear in immigrant communities.”

Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she plans to speak with Curran "about building trust with the community. . . . Just as ICE doesn’t belong at our medical facilities, they don’t belong at the jail.”

Gottehrer said, “everyone should be able to turn to law enforcement or medical personnel when they need help, without fearing for themselves or their family.”

For her part, Curran said in a statement: “I’ve continued to listen to the concerns of dedicated advocates. I want to be clear: Our law enforcement is focused on keeping all of our residents safe. They are not interested in anyone’s immigration status, and they are not focused on deportation. I am committed to building trust with our immigrant communities . . . "

Curran backed a "balanced approach," adding: "We cannot let any criminals out on the streets, but we also cannot have mothers not bringing their children in for medical care out of fear. We need to continue working with our federal law enforcement partners to prevent gang violence and human trafficking in our county, but we cannot have our residents afraid to report crimes."

Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James McDermott said Curran "should never have tried to get rid of them [ICE] to begin with. . . . They're a necessary branch in law enforcement, and they protect the cops and the public.”

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who also has argued for ICE to remain at the jail, gave Curran “credit for re-examining her position." In an interview, King said ICE "serves a real purpose. We shouldn’t be giving in to this hysteria that having ICE there is going to terrorize or intimidate immigrants.” 

In deciding originally to remove the ICE trailer from jail grounds, Nassau officials had cited an appellate court ruling that upended the Suffolk County Sheriff's policy of detaining individuals under federal warrants.

Proponents of removing ICE agents from the jail said their presence created the perception that Nassau was working with the federal agency to deport immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Curran changed course last week and said ICE could relocate to neighboring Nassau University Medical Center.

But civil liberties groups said hosting ICE on hospital grounds would deter patients from seeking health care, for fear of arrest. NUMC treats many low-income patients who don’t have insurance.

George Tsunis, chairman of the Nassau Health Care Corp., which runs NUMC, said, “I think in the fullness of time, everyone was able to come to a proper decision, that the Nassau University Medical Center continue to be a place where every single Nassau resident can access high quality health care without fear.”

Majority Republicans in the county legislature are planning a news conference Wednesday to call on Curran to keep federal officials on the jail site permanently. Republicans also want her to hold a public meeting in East Meadow to explain her “'constantly evolving' position on ICE," according to a media advisory. 

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