ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution Tuesday called “Public Safety for All,” making the county a sanctuary county.
In full, the five-page resolution is titled “Resolution to maintain a safe, inclusive government and protection, order, conduct, safety, health, and well-being of all persons in Tompkins County.”
The resolution states that county departments, officers, personnel and agents “should not engage in certain activities solely for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration law.” This includes stopping, questioning or interrogating someone based on their actual or suspected immigration or citizenship status.
It further states that people cannot be stopped or questioned based on a “civil immigration warrant,” administrative warrant or an immigration detainer in the individual’s name, including those identified in the National Crime Information Center database.
However, the resolution goes on to state the county officers or agents should honor detainer requests from federal agents in certain circumstances when there is a judicial warrant. It also says a person may be detained for up to 48 hours on a “civil immigration detainer” without a judicial warrant if the person has illegally re-entered the country after a previous removal, and if the individual has been convicted of a “violent or serious” crime, or if there is probable cause to believe the individual has been engaged in terrorist activity.
The resolution does not impact policies of the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, it reaffirms what is already practiced.
Legislature Chair Mike Lane said it’s important to restate things sometimes and does not think the resolution is a change from what the county has done. But, he said he wants residents to know if they can call and interact with police without fear.
“We look at people that come here from other countries as a resource for us. They provide labor, they provide ideas, intellect and diversity and we need that. In Tompkins County we have that every day. They are so much a part of what we have here,” Lane said. “I said a few weeks ago when I spoke at the annual message, I said we don’t build walls in Tompkins County, we open our hearts. This is an example of that.”
Former Tompkins County Legislature Chair Michael Koplinka-Loehr, who spoke during public comment, asked “Why pass a resolution affirming policies that are already in place? Well, in times of uncertainty, it’s very worthwhile to re-evaluate, to reaffirm prior safety and health policies for all community members so that they, law enforcement and staff and community members and immigrants themselves don’t have cause to question the county’s commitment to these pre-existing legal policies.”
Earlier this month, Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing released an open letter saying he and his deputies will not ask for someone’s immigration status unless it is directly relevant to an investigation.
In the public letter, Lansing wrote, “We do not have the constitutional authority, intention, nor the personnel to enforce federal laws; including the federal immigration law – which clearly falls under the responsibility of the federal government.”
Reading the resolution, the term “sanctuary county” does not appear in the resolution. Legislator Anna Kelles, D-Ithaca, who drafted the resolution, said sanctuary county is not a legal definition.
“It felt important to me, given polarization, to leave that word out and focus on the essence of what this is, which is to ensure public safety for all,” Kelles said.
The resolution had legal guidance from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who released a report guiding local municipalities on participation in immigration enforcement and provided model sanctuary provisions.
The resolution outlines in detail that it is the federal government’s responsibility to enforce immigration laws, not local police. It also states that the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from commandeering state or local officials to enforce immigration law, and likewise prohibits state or local officials from acting unilaterally on immigration matters.
Further, under Home Rule powers, the county has authority to adopt local laws relating to the “government, protection, order, conduct, safety, health and well-being of persons” that are not inconsistent with the State Constitution or general state law.
Legislative chambers were packed Tuesday for the meeting. A number of residents came out and voiced support of the county’s resolution Tuesday, and two opposed.
Several legislators who spoke in favor of the county’s resolution shared immigration stories, either about themselves or of family members from past generations.
Kelles said there will be discussions about the implications of the resolution financially. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Jan. 25 that says “sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.”
However, what funding Trump does have the power to cut has been called into question.
Kelles said there are case laws that show the federal government cannot take steps that are coercive with respect to holding federal funding.
The resolution passed 11-2, with legislators Dave McKenna, R-Enfield, and Glenn Morey, R-Groton, voting against. Mike Sigler, R-Lansing, was not present.
Read the resolution: