Immigrant advocates packed Southampton Town Hall on Tuesday urging the town to adopt legislation limiting how the town police department cooperates with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
An attorney representing East End advocacy group Organization of Latino Americans (OLA) plans to soon submit proposed legislation to the town board that, if adopted, would bar the town from enforcing ICE warrants not signed by a judge and restrict the flow of information from town police to immigration officials.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the board would consider the legislation once presented.
“Those two things are concrete, identifiable and they would mean so much to this community,” said OLA general counsel Andrew Strong, adding that New York City adopted similar legislation in 2014. “The good news is you are doing a lot of them already. It wouldn’t be a huge leap for this town.”
Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said officers do not ask about immigration when an individual is reporting a crime, and the department usually only honors administrative ICE warrants when there is mention of a serious crime, he said.
“We are sensitive to the community’s concerns about administrative ICE warrants,” he said. “We look at those on a case-by-case basis.”
Still, advocates said formalizing procedures would improve relationships between the community and police and alleviate deportation fears in Southampton Town.
More than two dozen residents, including immigration attorneys, clergy and members of the town’s anti-bias task force, spoke with pleas that echoed those of a February 2017 town meeting when residents urged the town to codify its position.
OLA executive director Minerva Perez noted the department has not entered an agreement with ICE that allows local officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions but has taken no formal action against performing ICE-related work since the 2017 meeting.
“We need more than simply not doing the worst,” she said. “You are governing during a crisis of conscience that rivals that of 1938.”
Several speakers noted the government’s role in setting the tone for attitudes toward immigrants and cited town policy requiring a government-issued ID to enter Town Hall as a deterrent for undocumented residents from participating in town matters. The supervisor stressed that all are welcome in Southampton Town Hall.
“No one is to be turned away from town hall,” Schneiderman said.