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Southampton Town considers formalizing immigration policy

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said that

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said that "My job isn't to enforce federal immigration law; it's to keep people safe." Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said Monday that he is considering formalizing the police department’s immigration policy to ease confusion after more than 200 residents supported calls for the town to protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

Town police cannot detain people based solely on their immigration status, according to administrative policy. But they can assist federal immigration officials in their investigations and hold people already in custody for a few extra hours if Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents request an administrative hold.

“My job isn’t to enforce federal immigration law; it’s to keep people safe,” Schneiderman said in a phone interview Monday. “We will cooperate with the federal government.”

Schneiderman had to reiterate the policy multiple times at a Feb. 28 Town Hall meeting in which more than 30 people asked the town board to consider policies that would improve relations between immigrants and police. But some of the actions proposed — including not detaining immigrants in the country illegally for 48 hours based on ICE requests without judicial warrants — are already in place.

Schneiderman said he has to speak with town attorney James Burke about how to formalize the administrative policy. He said he wants to make it clear that town employees “are expected to follow certain protocol.”

“It’s a policy that seems to be working,” he said.

Schneiderman added that he also plans to discuss the policy with incoming Police Chief Steven Skrynecki, who starts March 17, and is open to hearing suggestions from community leaders.

Minerva Perez, executive director of the Organization of Latino Americans of Eastern Long Island, said standardizing Southampton’s policy would stop the police department from acting on a case-by-case basis about ICE hold requests without warrants.

“If they’re saying they’re going to put that on the books that would be fantastic,” Perez said, noting it would build trust between the community and police.

Since taking office in January, President Donald Trump has signed executive orders calling for the construction of a wall along the Mexican border, a travel ban on immigrants from some Muslim-majority countries and the hiring of 10,000 immigration agents.

Residents and officials said the community has already been negatively impacted by Trump’s policies, especially because immigrants make up such a large portion of Southampton’s service and seasonal industries. Perez said people are afraid to go to school and work and that childrens’ mental health is affected because they fear their parents will be deported.

“If every immigrant, regardless of whether here legally or not, were to leave the area, we would have a very difficult time living the way we’re accustomed to living,” Schneiderman said.

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