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The New York state Capitol in Albany

ALBANY — A measure backed by some Democrats at the statehouse would prohibit police agencies from working with federal agents on matters involving immigration violations and further solidify New York's status as a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants.

The proposal has majority party sponsors in both houses of the Legislature and is being pushed by several advocacy groups including the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Immigration Coalition.

"State and local resources are too often misdirected to assist immigration authorities in performing duties that fall outside the realm of state and local concern," states the legislation sponsored by state Sen. Julia Salazar, D-Brooklyn.

Those seeking enhanced protections for undocumented immigrants in New York have made gains over the past two years.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year threatened to block police agencies from access to the state motor vehicle database if they didn't agree to refrain from sharing the information with federal immigration agencies.

In 2019, Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers approved the Green Light law, which allows people who entered the country illegally to obtain New York driver's licenses by producing identification documents produced in foreign countries.

In the most recent state budget, Cuomo and Democrats agreed to set up a $2 billion "excluded worker" fund to benefit people who say they were left out of the federal pandemic stimulus program, regardless of their immigration status.

The new measure prohibits police from engaging in investigations, interrogations, inquires, or collection of information about immigration law violations or about immigration status, nationality, or country of origin except when required by law."

It would also repeal a law that requires correctional facilities to investigate immigrants and share their information with immigration authorities.

But it would not prohibit police from complying with valid court orders or federal judicial warrants.

Contacted in Plattsburgh, Clinton County Sheriff David Favro had a chilly reaction to the proposal.

"I'd agree that in some geographic locations detaining people because you think there may be an immigration issue for the purposes of ICE (federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement) getting there can be a little bit over the top," Favro said. "But along the Canadian border, with our geographic uniqueness, there is a need for that."

Having partnerships between federal and local police agencies is highly beneficial to public protection, Favro said. "It's kind of hard to get information if you don't work cooperatively," he added.

In Albany, Peter Kehoe, executive director of the New York State Sheriffs Association, said the legislation would be detrimental to the mission of police agencies.

"It's wrong for legislators to try to continue to tie local police hands with respect to working with their federal partners, when both sides are only trying to keep the public safe," Kehoe said.

At a rally in support of the legislation, Delila Yeend of Troy, recalled how she was detained for three months at an ICE facility for undocumented immigrants in Batavia after police stopped her for a traffic infraction. Yeend, a native of Australia, said she was separated from her two children, both American citizens, throughout that period.

"If we don't pass this this session, there is no telling how many more families will be affected by this," said Yeend, sobbing as she described the impact her arrest had on her children.

Also at the rally, Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, D-Manhattan, said he recently visited undocumented immigrants being detained at a jail in Orange County. "We need ICE out of New York now," Epstein said.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhinews.com

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