Nassau GOP leaders and law enforcement unions Tuesday called on County Executive Laura Curran to reconsider her decision ordering U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to vacate a trailer at the county jail, citing concerns that the move will cause a spike in gang violence.
Nassau officials have directed six officials from ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations to vacate office space at the Correctional Center in East Meadow by Jan. 31.
The move follows a November ruling by the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division which found state and local law enforcement cannot arrest or detain immigrants in the country illegally — who would otherwise be released — on an ICE warrant for deportation purposes.
Union officials Tuesday argued the appellate court ruling, which overturned a Suffolk County policy, was limited in scope and should not require the county to cease its 20-year relationship cooperating and sharing information with ICE, including handing over inmates who are known gang members.
Brian Sullivan, president of Nassau's Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which represents jail guards, said Curran's decision was "mind boggling" and would hamstring law enforcement officials combating the "scourge" of gang violence, including MS-13.
"Cutting off this valuable resource for any reason is an affront to the taxpayers and residents of Nassau County who depend on their elected and appointed officials and law enforcement agencies to keep them safe," Sullivan said at a news conference in Mineola.
Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) accused Curran of putting "political correctness" ahead of public safety and announced plans to hold hearings on the decision.
"Unlike other so-called sanctuary cities, Nassau County law enforcement agencies work effectively with ICE and other federal agencies," Nicolello said. "That must continue."
Curran, a Democrat, defended her decision.
"The law is the law, and we will follow it," she said in a statement. "Removing ICE from the trailer gives us the opportunity to eliminate confusion in the immigrant community and demonstrate that inmates are there for crimes. This strengthens our community policing model."
Patrick Young, program director at the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead, which provides legal services to immigrants, said removal of the ICE trailer makes the public safer.
"The presence of the trailer on county property was jeopardizing public safety by creating an impression in immigrant communities that Nassau law enforcement agencies were working as an extension of ICE," Young said.
In a Nov. 20 letter, Nassau Undersheriff Alphonzo Albright told ICE officials that the court decision "negates the need" for the agency's presence at the jail. Albright also cited a pending "real estate and consolidation" project at the jail which would require ICE to vacate the property. County officials did not respond to requests for comment about the nature of that project.
Thomas Decker, an ICE field office director, responded in a Dec. 14 letter that the court's ruling was not so "far-reaching that it should be cause for elimination of our cooperative efforts that have been forged and burnished over decades."
Before the news conference, a billboard truck circled the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building, blaring the message, "Laura Curran Freezes ICE From Protecting Nassau County." Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James McDermott confirmed that his union paid for the truck, which also accuses Curran of being "soft on crime."
"We are very concerned about the direction of law enforcement in this county," McDermott said.
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder was supportive of Curran's move on Monday, and vowed to, "make sure the community trust is rebuilt."