James O'Connor, the Republican candidate for Suffolk County executive, criticized Democrat Steve Bellone for withholding full cooperation with federal immigration authorities and said he'd "have ICE on my speed dial" if elected.
O'Connor made his comments in reaction to Bellone's endorsement Monday by an arm of an immigrant advocacy group.
O'Connor, an attorney who lives in Great River and a former North Hempstead town board member, said Bellone had made Suffolk a "sanctuary city" by signing a 2014 executive order prohibiting police and probation officers from honoring 48-hour Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers without a warrant.
"I would never do that. If elected, I will enforce the laws and I'll have ICE on my speed dial," O'Connor said in a statement Monday.
Earlier in the day, Make the Road Action Fund announced its support for Bellone and Suffolk Legis. Monica Martinez, (D-Brentwood), who's running in a competitive re-election race.
Maria Magdalena Hernandez, a member of Make the Road Action Fund, criticized O'Connor for his statement.
"If he were really concerned about making Suffolk County safer, he would focus on building trust between local law enforcement and all communities, rather than threatening them," she said in a statement.
Hernandez said it appeared O'Connor wanted to take the county back to a period in former County Executive Steve Levy's administration to when tensions ran high between the county and immigrant communities and "when people were afraid to leave their houses."
Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers said, "This is a classic case of sour grapes from Mr. O'Connor who is attacking a community-based organization that works with both sides of the aisle just because he didn't get their endorsement."
Walter Barrientos, Long Island Coordinator for Make the Road Action Fund, said earlier in the day that Bellone has improved language access and the climate between the county and Latino communities.
"We welcome and appreciate the tone the current county executive has brought. When we talk about Latinos, it's a tone of inclusion and belonging and coming together," Barrientos said.
Bellone said in an interview that, "We've made it a point in this administration to make it clear Suffolk County is a place that considers our diversity an advantage. We're an inclusive county and think this endorsement is a reflection of that position."
Levy blamed tensions with the immigrant community during his administration on the fact that he sought to enforce the law.
"When the immigration law is being violated, it's elementary it's going to entail enforcement," he said Monday. "Those who violate the law, or their advocates, don't like that."
Levy added, "It's galling that so many local governments are thumbing their noses at the federal government."
Suffolk's refusal to honor ICE detainer requests through the Secure Communities program followed a similar policy change in Nassau and at Suffolk County jails.
Martinez is seeking re-election on the Working Families Party and Independence Party lines. Her opponent, Giovanni Mata, who has the Democratic line.