- By Dan Veaner
The Tompkins County Legislature followed in the footsteps of the Ithaca Common Council Tuesday, when they passed its 'Public Safety for All' Resolution, a resolution similar to Ithaca's 'Sanctuary City' resolution that passed three and a half weeks ago. More than 20 citizens spoke on the issue before the vote was taken, most speaking in favor of the measure. The resolution passed 11-2. The resolution says that no County employees may stop or question individuals based solely on immigration status, honor 'detainer requests' by federal agents, or respond to federal requests for information related to immigration status unless a judicial warrant is presented. It prevents County law enforcement officers from requesting proof of citizenship, and requires annual reports of county departments, with personal information stripped from the aggregated statistics.
"We are the best county in what I think is the best state," said Legislature Chair Michael Lane. "We look at the people who come to us from other countries as a resource—they are so much a part of what we have here…We don't build walls in Tompkins County; we open our hearts…We want people to know that they are safe here."
Two of three legislators who represent Lansing did not vote for the resolution. Glenn Morey voted no and Legislator Mike Sigler, who was out of town this week, was excused. Legislator Dave McKenna also voted no.
Sigler would have been a third 'no' vote. In an op-ed piece he wrote for Tompkins Weekly and posted on his Facebook page he said that diversity is the strength of America, but that you don't get that through illegal immigration. He argued that diversity comes via the legal immigration process in which people come here to be Americans first. At a Lansing Town Board meeting before leaving on vacation, Sigler said he wrote the op-ed about the erosion of what it means to be a citizen, and the meaning of having a green card or a visa to be in this country.
Sigler reported to the Lansing Town Board last week before the County vote, when Lansing Supervisor Ed LaVigne asked him what consequences Lansing might face if the resolution passed.
"What would the impact be for the Town of Lansing if Tompkins County became a Sanctuary County?" LaVigne asked Sigler. "Would it jeopardize our police protection? Would it jeopardize anything that would make our residents and citizens here more vulnerable?"
Sigler said a consequence could be the withdrawal of federal aid, using the example of body cameras for local law enforcement officials. But he said that it is unlikely that the federal government could withhold money for Medicaid.
"You can say the federal government, if we were a sanctuary county, if the President decides to follow through on what he was saying... they could pull federal money back from us. OK, what federal money? Could he pull back Medicaid? Probably not. It's not connected to this issue at all, so legally tat would be difficult -- there's been some case law based on that. It's like anything in law -- you do it and then people sue and you find out what the judge says at the end."
Sigler also noted a difference between the city of Ithaca and Tompkins County is that Mayor Svante Myrick appoints the city's police chief, but the Tompkins County Sheriff is an elected official. He said that the level of enforcement is up to the Sheriff, which creates a difficult situation for the Sheriff's Department.
"We are a legislature. We create the laws. We are not the enforcement wing of our government," Sigler said. "That is the sheriff's role. Is drunk driving a serious enough crime to trigger a call to ICE? That's going to be up to the Sheriff. No law that we pass is going to make that difference. We're putting the Sheriff and his deputies in a poor spot. That's one of my main concerns about this."
The resolution was drafted by Health and Human Services Committee Chair Anna Kelles. Kelles stressed that the measure is not termed a 'sanctuary' resolution because 'sanctuary' is a political definition, but not a legal definition.
"It felt important to me…to leave that word out and focus on the essence of what this is—which is to ensure public safety for all," she said.
Before the vote several Legislators spoke about of their immigrant ancestors and their experiences. Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne spoke about her own experiences as a naturalized US citizen.
The Legislature will send copies of the resolution to state and federal representatives, including Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; to Congressman Tom Reed, State Senators Tom O’Mara, James Seward, and Pamela Helming, State Assemblymember Barbara Lifton, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
"This does not do anything different, except it puts Tompkins County on the map that we will continue to be a welcoming law-abiding county, and we will do that for our people," Lane said.