In a lengthy presentation during the public speaking portion of the October 4 East Hampton Town Board’s work session, 20 advocates for the undocumented immigrant community in East Hampton Town called for legislation from the board that would prevent local police from cooperating with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The six-page document, Minerva Perez, the executive director of the East End branch of Organizicion Latino Americana, said, would codify what town board members assert is already the policy being followed.
A similar session took place September 25 before the Southampton Town Board.
Perez was the first speaker after East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc opened the floor to the public last Thursday.
She called ICE actions “an unprecedented open season approach” against the Latino community. Perez said that those arrested on a simple charge of unlicensed driving as a misdemeanor were being deported. She said the practice by ICE of issuing what are called “administrative warrants” — a warrant signed off on by an ICE official without judicial input — should be ended, and until that happens, local authorities should not honor them. The proposed law, which was sent to all four members of the town board along with the town supervisor, specifically requires East Hampton Town police to disregard all detainer requests and warrants from ICE that are non-judicial in nature.
“People are not reporting crime as victims and as witnesses” because of growing fear of ICE, and the possibility of being detained and deported, said Perez. “Local law enforcement agencies are being pulled into the fray and it is hurting our community,” she said. Perez added that under-reporting of crime endangers the entire East Hampton community, not just Latinos.
She was supportive of East Hampton Town Police chief Michael Sarlo, but said that “It is not fair or correct to put all the onus on the chief. This is a time like none other.” She asked, “How are we protecting members of our community who are seeing families being separated as a result of non-violent offenses?”
She was specifically referring to the charge of misdemeanor unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. In New York State, unlike other states such as neighboring Connecticut, driver’s licenses are issued only to those who can prove their legal status in the country. The state of Connecticut, on the other hand, issues what are known as “drive only” licenses, which allow undocumented residents to obtain vehicular insurance and legally drive, but which cannot be used as legal identification. The proposed law for the town does not appear to deal directly with the issue of unlicensed driving.
Local police do not, as a routine, hold those arrested on simple unlicensed driving charges overnight for arraignment, effectively denying ICE the chance to file the detainer request. Instead, police issue an appearance ticket, and defendants are arraigned in court at a future date. However, once they enter the judicial system, if found guilty of the charge, and sentenced to even one day in county jail, they could find themselves in ICE’s crosshairs, Perez said. That is because, while local police may or may not honor so-called administrative warrants from ICE, the Suffolk County sheriff’s office honors all such requests, all of which ask whatever agency is holding the subjects of the request to keep them in custody for 48 additional hours after they are due to be released, to allow ICE to pick them up.
The office of Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr. goes even further, renting 150 beds in the Riverside jail to ICE, allowing its officers to act as federal agents during the 48-hour holding period. The proposed law would bar local police from acting as federal agents for that 48 hour period, and requires the timely release of those targeted by administrative warrants from ICE.
When Perez concluded, Van Scoyoc spoke. “It is easy for me to say no, I don’t believe that parents should be separated from their children unless there are extreme circumstances, violent crime, or some other offense that endangers life and safety of others.” He said that it was ironic that East Hampton, with its history of welcoming immigrants for over 350 years, should now find itself in this moment.
Board member Jeffrey Bragman said, “That crime you are talking about clearly, disproportionately, effects the immigrant community.” He said that it was important that everyone in the community feels safe on the streets and in their homes.
Fellow board member Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said she had received from Perez a copy of the proposed “Peaceful Community Protection Act.” Burke-Gonzalez, the board’s liaison to Human Services, said that the Town of East Hampton “provides services, whether it is transportation, the senior nutrition program, or homemakers that go into (residents’) homes, and is open to every resident of East Hampton.”
Perez closed by saying, “People are being separated from their families for unlicensed driving.” Van Scoyoc said that what Perez was seeking already is the policy, in practice, of East Hampton Town police. “Well, the devil is in the details,” Perez replied.
Twenty speakers followed Perez. Of those, 19 were in support of Perez’s proposed legislation.
A woman identified as Anely, speaking through a translator, said that she was undocumented, and lives in daily fear that she will be arrested and separated from her son because she is driving without a license. She said she has never committed a crime, and pays all her taxes. “We have to be afraid of those who are here to protect our well-being.” Several other undocumented residents spoke about their fears. A fifth grader talked about her daily fear of being permanently separated from her parents.
Sandra Dunn, the associate director of OLA, spoke for an undocumented resident she called Rosa. Dunn read from a letter from Rosa to the board, in which she said her husband and father of her son was being held in New Jersey by ICE. He had been convicted on a drunken driving charge in about 2007. He was stopped earlier this year in East Hampton for having a defective license plate light. In East Hampton Town Justice Court, the man was sentenced to 10 days in county jail, during which time ICE presented Toulon’s office with an administrative warrant, which was honored.
The one speaker against Perez’s proposed law was Martin Drew, who said that people have to keep in mind that unlicensed driving is a crime, and questioned whether the town should be taking on national issues like this.