Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo will be asked to speak before the legislature next month about his office’s intent to partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Chairman Stan Brownell told The Alt Wednesday night after a public forum where nearly a dozen residents spoke against the prospective agreement. Brownell did not opine on the merits of the partnership but said lawmakers “need clarity” on its details.
Opponents of the county’s participation in the 287(g) program, which essentially deputizes local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law, may see the prospect of a public hearing as a positive development, though they continue to call for the sheriff’s office to withdraw its application entirely. Some opponents previously spoke at a recent county budget hearing or signed a Nov. 7 letter that said it would hamper trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community.
Sheriff Russo “should have to explain to the public what the fiscal justification for this program would be,” county resident Siobhan Burke said on Wednesday night, raising concerns about somewhat vague comments the sheriff made to the Times Union last month about how funding from ICE “could offset the cost” of holding more federal detainees.
The nonprofit American Immigration Council has found that 287(g) is “costly for localities.” In an interview with The Alt in mid-November, Rensselaer County Undersheriff Ed Bly said that the office “isn’t gonna enter into any agreement with anyone that’s gonna cost us a lot of money,” though he did not provide more precise information when we asked about the meaning of “a lot.”
“We’ve simply applied,” Bly said at the time. “That’s where we are in the process.” (Bly and Russo did not immediately return an email sent late Wednesday night requesting comment for this article.)
Bridget Ball Shaw, a board member of the Capital District Women’s Bar Association Legal Project, which offers pro bono representation to immigrants, said at the public forum that news of the 287(g) program had already frightened immigrant families. Not only should the application be withdrawn, Shaw said, but the county should “publicize” this withdrawal “so that our friends and our neighbors can stop living in fear.”
Mary Lynch, an Albany Law School professor and former prosecutor, painted the program as bad law enforcement policy that subverts local discretion. “Are we so overstaffed in county corrections that we can afford for them to have extra work to do that isn’t the work we need done in this county?” she asked.
Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Judith Enck, a Poestenkill resident, also spoke at the forum.
“I hope that Sheriff Russo consulted with all of you as elected officials before he applied for this grant,” Enck said, addressing lawmakers. “I want my local tax money spent on actual threats to public safety, and not being part of an ICE initiative to do sweeps.”
It appears Rensselaer County would be the only county in New York participating in the 287(g) program, if the agreement were finalized. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple rescinded his office’s application amid public pressure, The Alt reported in early November.
Asked to comment on the status of the initiative in Rensselaer County, a public affairs officer for ICE, Rachael Yong Yow, said the agency “does not comment on applications until an MOA [memorandum of agreement] is signed by both parties and a new program is established.”
Requests for comment sent to the press offices of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, asking if they were monitoring the deliberations in Rensselaer County, were not immediately returned.