Sanctuary in the Highlands?

Calls in Philipstown for ‘equal protection’

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Under a proposal the Town Board took up March 2, Philipstown could become a “sanctuary city” to shield residents from harassment and deportation, regardless of immigration status, race, ethnicity, gender or religious beliefs.

At its formal monthly meeting, the board welcomed and informally agreed to explore an addition to the town code guaranteeing “equal protection” to everyone living in Philipstown and forbid town officials or employees from participating in round-ups of undocumented immigrants.

Garrison resident Eric Stark, who in January organized ongoing, ad hoc gatherings of those concerned about Trump administration policies, provided the board with a draft “Equal Protection” law.

“The people the [federal] government labels as illegal immigrants are our neighbors, our friends, our employees and people we see daily,” he told the board. “They need to be protected.”

The proposal would prevent town employees or officials from cooperating with arrests or detentions by federal agents enforcing immigration laws; assisting in an investigation of anyone’s citizenship or immigration status, unless forced by higher law or judicial orders; or disclosing information on someone’s citizenship or non-citizenship, unless required by federal law.

A Nation of Immigrants

Number in the U.S.: 41.7 million
Number in New York: 4.4 million
Number in Putnam County: 12,600

Source: Migration Policy Institute, citing U.S. Census data. “Immigrant” refers to people who are not U.S. citizens by birth. It includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, people on student or work visas, those admitted under refugee or asylum status, and persons residing in the country illegally.

Adoption of such a measure forces the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “to operate on their own without our assistance,” Stark said. He described the initiative as “a call to our better angels … to infuse our culture with a positive nature and spirit” and to “make sure everyone is treated with respect.”

The village of Cold Spring maintains its own police force, but Philipstown relies on the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement. Officers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Metro-North, the state police and other agencies also operate within town boundaries.

Except for criminal investigations, they operate under the Town of Philipstown code, Supervisor Richard Shea said.

Despite his wariness of the Trump administration, Stark described the cause as a non-partisan issue. His one-page document states the town “recognizes the importance of diversity as a component of the American experience, that we as a nation collectively benefit from two core values enshrined in our Constitution: tolerance and inclusion” and that Philipstown “upholds the value of equal protection under law for all its residents.”

Shea said that for the past few months he had been pondering a similar measure, a Citizens’ Bill of Rights, and has spoken with Town Attorney Steve Gaba about the legal aspects of adopting one. He suggested that Stark’s Equal Protection amendment could be combined with the Bill of Rights or stand alone, whichever works better.

State Sanctuary

Following President Trump’s threat to withhold federal funds from cities that declare themselves to be “sanctuaries” (those in New York include New York, Ithaca, Kingston, Rochester and Syracuse), the Democratic-ruled state Assembly on Feb. 6 passed legislation on a 77-58 vote that would prohibit local and state police from conducting a stop or making an arrest based solely on the belief a person is in the country illegally. The act is unlikely to become law, as it would not survive a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Seventeen Democrats voted against the proposal, including Sandy Galef, who represents Philipstown. Frank Skartados, who represents Beacon, voted yes. (In a statement, Galef said she does not support the detention of anyone “on the sole belief or suspicion that he or she is an undocumented immigrant” but felt the bill “did not do an adequate job of protecting all New Yorkers from those arrested on serious felony charges” who the bill might prevent from being deported. The full statement is here.)

The proposed law also would prevent agencies from asking people about their immigration status when they report a crime or seek help. Also, local and state agencies could not detain people at the request of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with the exception of people convicted of a violent crime or Class A felony, or on a federal terrorism watch list.

The Assembly also on Feb. 6 passed the Dream Act, which would allow undocumented high school students in New York to apply for financial aid. The legislation has been approved by the Assembly five times but never made it through the Senate. Both Galef and Skartados voted for the measure.

Shea told The Current on March 7 that his Citizens’ Bill of Rights would focus in part on environmental rights and protection from harmful climate change while also sharing key principles with Stark’s initiative.

In terms of the latter, “it would mostly be about human dignity, respecting human dignity,” on various levels, Shea explained. “Just because a lot of people are running around with their heads on fire” over immigration or other issues nationally, Philipstown need not do likewise, he said.

“We don’t want to go breaking up families” or seeing the deportation of someone pulled over in a traffic stop because of a defective taillight or other minor infraction, he said. “To me, it would be tragic. That wouldn’t be right.”

At the same time, he cautioned, in the case of a suspect arrested for a violent crime, “all bets are off.”

On March 2, stating that “time is of the essence,” Stark expressed eagerness “to get the ball rolling.”

“The ball is rolling, has been rolling,” Shea assured him. “We represent the public. Generally speaking, if there’s strong sentiment about something and our attorneys say it’s something we can do, it gets done.”

8 thoughts on “Sanctuary in the Highlands?

  1. The anti-Trump contingent has really come unglued. Is it necessary to flaunt your dislike by coming up with this red herring of a proposal?

    Last time I looked at the local demographic data, Philipstown was roughly 93 percent white. The idea of proclaiming this prosperous, lily white enclave a Sanctuary City is ludicrous at best.

    I don’t think there are that many illegal immigrants in town who need “protection.” In fact, after some of the experiences I’ve had with local government and the cops over the years, it’s the average, ordinary, non-aligned citizen whose property and other rights are being eroded by onerous rules and regulations about everything from free speech to the color of your shutters.

    If anything, the laws are being selectively enforced against law-abiding residents, regardless of color. Will Mr. Stark’s proposal protect someone like me — a white citizen who’s a Trump supporter who gets harassed by the village because they don’t like my politics and my sign is three inches too far from the front of the building?

  2. Please let this go through as quickly as possible. We must resist the lunatic pretenders who sit on the White House throne and embrace white nationalism wrapped in Nazi ideology.

    • President Donald Trump’s daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are all practicing the Jewish faith, so comments about “Nazi’s” are inappropriate and uncalled for. Further, the hatred I see from the left toward President Trump is worse than toward any other president. All that hatred can’t erase his epic win as much as they wish it would.

  3. So now our town government can pick and choose which federal laws it wishes to abide by? Not in my book they don’t, that’s the problem. Illegal aliens are illegal. No sanctuary, go file the paperwork and do it right!

    If my “so-called” (and I use that loosely) local leaders make Philipstown a Sanctuary City, I can go get another handgun but this time no registration — call it a “sanctuary gun.” It’s not illegal because Philipstown doesn’t follow federal laws. I choose not to follow this one.

    If the handgun is never used in a crime, nobody knows I have it, it may be dangerous, you don’t know, it may just be fine, you don’t know. Kind of like an illegal living in a sanctuary city. Nobody can do anything about them being there, they may be dangerous, you don’t know, may be fine, just don’t know, being they were never registered as citizens. But once a crime is committed by either illegal — the gun or alien — then and only then may we enforce the law, God forbid, and we now can ask for local help as well. But before this, their hands and mouths were wired shut under the “sanctuary law.” Now isn’t that just the dumbest thing you ever heard?!

    Obviously, the town board officials are out of their Democrat minds. We are a country of laws — follow them!

    If Mr. Stark wants to speed up the immigration process, that is outstanding. I agree with him. The USA is a melting pot, let’s do it the legal way — the way so many millions have done it before. Is it fair to them to cheat and cut the line? No, it is not. Sanctuary cities are just wrong.

  4. Trump is a frightening, unhinged president and therefore dangerous. He is also a hateful liar. Let’s agree to disagree. I am a refugee from Nazi Germany and have seen it all before. It is called ultra-nationalism with strong white supremacist leanings. We have very different life experiences and world viewpoints. That’s OK.

  5. I am retired after 36 years in law enforcement and I find it offensive to even talk about non-compliance with other law enforcement officials. Our judicial system provides a forum for interpreting laws, so let the courts do their job. This nation is in chaos because some people think we don’t need structure, discipline and rules.

    My family are immigrants from Sicily. They were poor, but managed to get on a ship and come through Ellis Island, where they followed all the rules of citizenship. They went to work immediately, worked very hard and raised their family here. This is supposed to be a civilized nation and there are protocols in place to keep it that way. This is not Nazi Germany, Trump is not Hitler and we are not white supremacists. Our energy is better used working to figure out how we can reduce our trillions in dollars of debt so that we can be an economic superpower again someday instead of a welfare state. Stop scaring the children and instead instill a good work ethic, after all, that is what made this country great.

  6. My ancestors came on the Mayflower and other ships centuries before Ellis Island or any immigration/citizenship rules. Until we decided to start excluding people in the late 19th century, there was no “illegal” immigration, anyone could come, we welcomed them. Racism has fueled our immigration laws, starting with Chinese, Italian, Irish and other immigrants, and continues to this day. The ethnicities change, but the racism stays the same.

  7. It was nice to see so many enthusiastic participants. I’m glad the resolution passed despite opposition. However, the observation by a member of the audience that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had not fully considered the implications of his advice on how local municipalities might write their own Sanctuary-type resolutions illustrates how misunderstood this resolution is.

    I have much more faith in the State Attorney General’s understanding of the law.

    The recently-adopted Equal Protection Resolution memorializes what is already true: local law enforcement agencies or municipalities do not need to do the work of ICE agents unless compelled by state or federal law or by a court order. Supervisor Shea stated repeatedly that if a criminal law were broken, then the Town would assist if asked.

    However, the Town is not required to assist, and if a federal agency were to require this, it would be essentially an unfunded mandate. Town Clerk Tina Merando confirmed that she has not been asked, nor has she engaged in, the collecting data or keeping records of the immigration status of our community members. The resolution merely confirms that our town employees and services are not engaged in this practice.

    If federal law changes, and immigration issues are shifted to the town level, then we can consider a response or rescind the resolution.