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Schenectady Considers Bills Addressing Immigration Reform

As some communities in the region establish themselves as “Sanctuary Cities,” Schenectady appears to be distancing itself from the label as it considers its options. The Schenectady city council has been discussing immigration, a hot topic that has drawn dozens of residents at recent meetings.

The topic of immigration has been a hot-button issue lately in Schenectady, as it is nationally. Those for and against measures addressing immigration have appeared in large numbers at public meetings.

The city council is now in a position where it seeks to address immigration without adopting the label “Sanctuary City,” a term used in areas where local authorities have agreed to limit their cooperation with federal agencies.

City Council President Leesa Perazzo, who called for Monday night’s discussion, made that distinction.

“We have long come to the fact that the majority of the council does not feel comfortable with that, so nobody at this table is recommending that,” said Perazzo.

What is on the table: three separate bills addressing immigration that Perazzo hoped would  establish common ground.

The most popular option is a simplified document brought forward by a majority of four Democrats that calls on the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Council member Ed Kosiur said the plan is based on language developed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and nearly mirrors language adopted by Orlando, Florida.

“Working, again, with the Conference of Mayors, this proposal that they worked on for comprehensive immigration reform, I think, is very, very important. It’s a good starting point. Certainly the conversation should and would continue in our community,” said Kosiur.

The resolution it is based on was signed onto by Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy as well as the mayors of Albany, Syracuse and Rochester.

The proposed resolution does not mention the city police department or community policing, but acknowledges the importance of immigrants to the local economy and city diversity. It also says the city would work to “foster a welcoming and secure city for all of their residents, regardless of who they are or where they come from.”

Vince Riggi, the only Independent on the seven-member board dominated by Democrats, agreed with Kosiur’s sentiment that it’s the city’s duty to support law enforcement and to uphold federal laws.

“I put my hand on the bible, as all of us did, we swore to uphold the constitutional laws of the United States of America,” said Riggi. “Now that’s important when you do that. It isn’t anything else, it’s an important thing. That’s what we do and I take that very seriously. And I don’t think we should be telling our police department to go against anything the federal government is going to request.”

Council member Marion Porterfield is seeking a bill that would include language stating that the city police department “has long held to the practice that it does not inquire into a person’s immigration status upon initial contact.”

“It’s not saying to the police ‘don’t do anything,’ it’s just what the police chief, what the mayor has said, what’s been said consistently. That’s a statement. It’s not trying to tie the hand of the police,” said Porterfield.

Perazzo said while it’s “nice that the Conference of Mayors” put together the language used in the majority-supported proposal, she sought to tie in the sentiment of community members and “personalize” her own bill that would proclaim Schenectady a “Welcoming City.”

“I have never seen the likes of that, not even for the casino, and the missing voice of our citizens in this resolution I find very, very disappointing,” said Perazzo.

The next regularly scheduled city council meeting is set for Monday, April 24th.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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