Albany takes center stage in sanctuary city debate

Albany takes center stage in sanctuary city debate


“It’s hard to take a lecture from you on the constitution,” Fox News talking head Tucker Carlson told Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan last Thursday. Sheehan appeared on Carlson’s show to discuss Albany’s immigration policy and the city’s status as a “sanctuary city.” Her appearance followed a segment on the international MS-13 gang. Carlson’s comment came after Sheehan said the Supreme Court found in Arizona v. United States that it is not illegal for someone to be in the country without the proper papers. Sheehan said instead it is a civil violation. Carlson then insisted that anyone in the country without papers would have to commit fraud to secure employment.

On Nov. 15, the Justice Department sent a warning to 29 jurisdictions including the city of Albany for being “potentially out of compliance” with federal law by possibly failing to share information helpful to immigration enforcement. The letter noted that these jurisdictions could lose federal funding due to their noncompliance. The letter follows Sheehan’s reelection on Nov. 7 following a campaign where the city’s sanctuary status was a major issue. Sheehan is thought to have national political ambitions. 

On November 20, after this story went to print, a federal judge permanently blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order to strip funding from cities that don’t cooperate with US immigration officials. 

Sheehan said she was asked to appear on the show by someone from Carlson’s staff and agreed because she wanted the “opportunity to speak directly to his audience.”

Sheehan said she feels Carlson demonizes immigrants across the board–regardless of their legal status.

“When you take the time to actually speak to the immigrants in our community who are doctors, lawyers and scientists who work very hard every day you see that they are fearful because of this rhetoric,” the mayor said in an interview with The Alt on November 20. “They wonder if they can go home for a wedding: ‘What happens if my mother wants to visit me?’”

We reported this month that both the Albany and Rensselaer County sheriff’s applied for partnerships with ICE that would see local officers trained in immigration enforcement. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple withdrew his application.

Sheehan stressed to The Alt that the sheriff’s office does not patrol the city of Albany and that Albany’s sanctuary policy applies to the APD. “What I can do is assure everyone that because of the policy in place we are not going to ask someone’s immigration status when they interact with the parking violations bureau, when they interact with the city, when they interact with the police. When it comes to holding people, that is something the sheriff is responsible for. The sheriff’s office does not patrol the city of Albany.”

Carlson pressed Sheehan on whether she would instruct her officers to hold a suspect if the federal government said, “We’re trying to find someone and we believe they are in criminal custody. Will you hold until we get there?”

“If a warrant is issued, we can hold people, but we have to follow the Constitution,” Sheehan replied. “The final thing, too, is this: We are a city with a growing immigrant population, and it is good for our economy. When we look at northeastern cities in an aging population, if we want to continue to have a vibrant economy, we need to be welcoming to everybody.”

Sheehan told The Alt that she is afraid anti-immigrant rhetoric will drive away investment and opportunity. She also says that she wants to do everything possible to make sure the immigrant community is not driven into seclusion.

“The police chief tells me we now have a tremendous underreporting of crime in the immigrant community. We recently had a young man who was pelted by rocks on the the way home. He only called the police when he got home at the urging of his family. Ultimately he needed surgery. What would have happened if he remained fearful of contacting the police? This is critical to public safety. I believe it is incumbent on everyone in the city to help new immigrants become part of society.”

Asked if she plans to return to the Carlson’s show, Sheehan responded, “I think I made my point. He’s shown his colors and I’m not sure he’s interested.”

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