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ICE Visit To Troy Follows Stalled Sanctuary Effort

Protester Ivy Hecht speaks to demonstrators outside the Rensselaer County Jail on Thursday
Lucas Willard
Protester Ivy Hecht speaks to demonstrators outside the Rensselaer County Jail on Thursday

Protesters greeted the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Troy on Thursday. The setting was notable. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports on the ongoing immigration debate in the Collar City.

Before Thursday’s press conference at the Rensselaer County Jail, where acting ICE Director Matthew Albence joined law enforcement from around the state and local Republican officials to speak against New York’s Green Light Law, demonstrators assembled outside.

Organizer Ivy Hest spoke to the dozens of protesters as police stood by.

“We’re here today to send a message to the people inside who are too afraid to come out here and talk to us, who are too afraid to actually hold a public meeting. We are here today to tell them to destroy ICE! No more ICE! No more ICE!”

Albence focused his message on the Green Light Law’s provision that prevents federal immigration authorities from accessing New York’s motor vehicle database without a judicial order, saying it creates a public safety risk.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Information is the lifeblood of law enforcement. Without it, we are less effective and our ability to protect our nation and all who live here is greatly diminished,” said Albence.

The crowd outside disagreed. Bryan MacCormack is Executive Director of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, a member of the steering committee for the Green Light New York Coalition. MacCormack defended the provision.

“I think it really maintains the principle of the Fourth Amendment to unwarranted search and seizure, and believe that these privacy protections are important not only for immigrants but for all New Yorkers,” said MacCormack.

Republican Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo, who hosted Albence in Troy, participates in a program called 287(g) with the Department of Homeland Security. The program allows trained staff inside the county jail to act on behalf of federal immigration officers.

That has been met with criticism from immigrant advocates in Troy and was frequently brought up during efforts to declare Troy a Sanctuary City.

After weeks of vigorous debate and packed public meetings, a sanctuary measure was tabled by the past Troy City Council in December 2018, before a revised version passed in July 2019.

The city’s Democratic Mayor Patrick Madden, facing re-election, vetoed the measure. In a July memo, prior to the 4-3 council vote, Madden contended “the term ‘sanctuary city’ has no legal meaning” and would “create confusion as well as an unsubstantiated set of expectations.”

The primary driver behind the sanctuary push was former city councilor David Bissember, who lost a citywide vote against incumbent Republican City Council President Carmella Mantello in November.

Bissember was outside the Rensselaer County Jail on Thursday, while Mantello joined Albence inside.

Though Democrats still maintain a majority on the new Troy city council, current council president Pro Tem Ken Zalewski said last month he would not revisit the sanctuary question right away.

“No, it’s not a priority right now, but we’ll have a conversation about it at some point, I’m sure,” said Zalewski.

Zalewski, a Democrat, said he does support the concept of a sanctuary policy, however.  

“If the whole council could stand at a podium with our police officers and we all say, ‘This is what we want to do as a city, this is how we want to present ourselves,’ I could definitely be on board with it. I support the idea of sanctuary cities and when a city comes together, like Albany did – and their chief of police and their mayor and their communities all came together and said, ‘We want to be a sanctuary city,’ – that’s fine. Here it was contentious.”

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