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NYS Senator Introduces Bill To Build Trust In Immigrant Communities

Matt Biddulph/Flickr

A New York state senator from Westchester County is introducing legislation to create community police liaisons to build trust with immigrant communities. The effort comes after county legislators earlier this week failed to override a veto of an immigrant protection bill.

Democratic state Senator George Latimer, who is running against Republican County Executive Rob Astorino in November’s election, is introducing legislation creating the “POLICe” program. Latimer’s bill comes on the heels of the Westchester County Board of Legislators’ failure to override Astorino’s veto of the Immigrant Protection Act. Here’s Latimer.

“With all of the anti-immigration rhetoric that’s out there, the anger that’s being expressed the Washington D.C. policies, I think it’s realistic to expect that in an immigrant community people would stop being responsive, they would be very concerned about sharing information, and we don’t need that,” Latimer says. “We need to be able to police our communities with the help of our residents and citizens.”

His bill would provide five grants to law enforcement agencies in Westchester to create the liaison positions. Latimer says that by creating the positions as civilian employees of the police departments, the intent is to shield those employees from the reporting and joint participation mandates that may apply in federal immigration documentation matters.

“So by putting aside grants, certainly for my purposes in Westchester County, for up to five separate police departments, we’ll be able to bring on board civilians that can serve as a liaison between the police department structure and also the community,” Latimer says. “And, at the same time, because they’re civilians, they’re not subject to some of the same restrictions or concerns that a peace officer would have. I think they would be within the context of the police department and be able to be very positive advocates for what’s happening in the community and try to establish as much trust as you can.”

A spokesman for Astorino’s re-election campaign says, in part, "George Latimer's bill is a slap in the face to Westchester County police officers who already work closely with our immigrant communities. Here's another Albany politician sponsoring an unnecessary bill -- with no chance of passage -- to try to divide Westchester communities and score cheap political headlines.”

Astorino issued an executive order on immigration less than one week before the September 25 Board of Legislators vote on the veto override, calling it a compromise. Speaking Tuesday following the vote that let his veto stand, Astorino reiterated that his executive order strikes a balance.

“We answered the fears in the executive order that some in the immigrant community were saying. And it’s explicit that our police department has a policy that they cannot stop and question somebody solely on their immigration status. And it’s explicit that we want people to come forward if they’re injured or sick or see a crime or part of a crime, and work with the police,” Astorino says. “But it’s also explicit that we’re going to work with the federal government when we’ve got criminals here and not shield them, and that’s the big issue.”

Latimer expects to land an Assembly sponsor for his bill soon. And he hopes the legislation picks up steam for other New York communities.

“Well, the bill is Westchester specific and, to be honest with you, we would hope that the executive branch would look at this as a test idea and put more money behind it and then make it a statewide initiative,” says Latimer.

The state legislature doesn’t return to Albany until January.

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