Sanctuary in the Highlands?

Proposal in Beacon draws impassioned crowd

By Jeff Simms

The idea of Beacon becoming a “sanctuary city” could be one of the more divisive issues that the City Council has tackled, as it drew more than 100 people to its March 6 meeting.

The council is expected to continue the discussion at a March 13 workshop.

While sanctuary cities and counties have been in the news lately, the concept is at least 30 years old and generally refers to places where local police are instructed not to assist federal immigration enforcement. That means, for example, if someone is pulled over, officers would not inquire about immigration status while processing the infraction.

But Beacon Police Chief Doug Solomon said immigration is rarely germane to his department because federal agencies most often work with county or state officials. “We’re not empowered with enforcing immigration laws,” he said.

If he pulled someone over in Beacon, Solomon said he wouldn’t have any reason to ask whether the driver is documented, and if he or she is in the country illegally, “there’s nothing I can do about it, anyway.”

A Nation of Immigrants

Number in the U.S.: 41.7 million
Number in New York: 4.4 million
Number in Dutchess County: 34,400

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.

Solomon also released a statement about the policies that guide his officers, who, he said, “strive to protect the rights and integrity of all persons without prejudice or bias against race, religion, ethnic and national origin or sexual orientation within its jurisdiction.”

The statement continues: “It is not the practice of the Beacon Police Department to inquire as to one’s immigration status or engage in activities solely for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws.”

Yet Solomon was clear he opposed the City Council adopting sanctuary city status, saying it’s not within the council’s purview to dictate police policy.

“Operationally, it should be left up to the police department as to how we’re going to interact or not interact with another agency,” he said.

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 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.

During the March 6 meeting, proponents argued that adopting sanctuary status would protect Beacon residents who might be afraid to approach police or report crimes for fear of being deported.

Connie Hogarth called it a “moral imperative” to make Beacon a sanctuary, saying that “to protect the most vulnerable among us from the tyranny of fear … says loud and clear who we are.”

Others countered that the move would make Beacon a safe haven only for criminals. “Crime would rise because of the people that would be attracted into the city of Beacon,” said John Christian. “They could be attracted here because they feel protected.”

In all, 28 people addressed the council, with about two-thirds supporting the idea of Beacon as a sanctuary city. Many of the supporters wore pins reading “No humans are illegal.”

Shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump signed an order to withhold federal funding to sanctuary cities, although it’s unclear how that might be enforced. That’s why “there’s no reason to touch this,” resident Mike Justice said. “I don’t think it’s the place of the council to take a stand on an issue that has nothing to do with the city. We have dozens of other problems that should be dealt with that have nothing to do with immigration.”

Many others argued that sanctuary status reflected the inclusive environment that has attracted so many to Beacon.

“Let’s be clear,” Arthur Camins told council members, “this push around immigration is not about crime. It’s not about who’s committing crime. There are times where you recognize the failure of people to act on what they think is right. We know the cost of that. I’m urging you to look into your own hearts and your own values and to do what’s right.”