Opinion

Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo has a truth problem

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Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo has a truth problem

Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo recently applied for, and was approved to participate in, a program with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called 287(g). This program effectively deputizes local police to serve as federal immigration enforcement agents. If the program goes forward, Rensselaer County would be the first county in New York to participate in the program.

The program has been noted by the American Immigration Council to be costly to municipalities, and this kind of collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement carries social costs as well, resulting in racial profiling and a fear among immigrants to report crimes or have any interaction with city, county, or state services.

Sheriff Russo says these concerns are overblown. Besides, he only wants to have a few corrections officers from the county jail be trained so that he can contract with ICE to detain immigrants at the jail and thereby make money for the county.

Here is the truth problem: The feds already contract with several county jails in New York state to detain immigrants by entering into an intergovernmental service agreement, not 287(g).  Sheriff Russo is aware of this because in fact, Rensselaer County Correctional Facility already has an IGSA with the U.S. Marshals Service. Nearby, Albany County has an IGSA with ICE, for precisely the reasons Sheriff Russo is claiming to pursue. But when Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple applied for 287(g), he later recognized the problems it presented and the likely community backlash, and he rescinded his application. He still houses federal detainees, but refuses to deputize his corrections officers, seeing that the program holds no benefits for the community or the county.

Sheriff Russo is either lying about his reasons for wanting to be part of the program (since it is not necessary for the reasons he claims) or he’s being lied to by ICE about the nature of the program. In the latter case, we can add that to the long list of reasons that any self-respecting law enforcement officer could have for not wanting to collaborate with the agency.

ICE’s practices are a human-rights nightmare. Racial profiling, lack of due process for immigrants, and the seeming delight the agency takes in tearing apart families and threatening immigrant communities is disgusting and wrong. The agency likes to claim they pursue public safety threats, but its own numbers confirm that it frequently arrests immigrants who have committed either no crime (immigration violations are a civil infraction) or minor violations like traffic offenses. They terrorize our communities and make us all less safe.  

Is ICE simply enforcing the law? Perhaps. But the laws it enforces are inhumane, racist, and wrong. That’s why reasonable sheriffs and local police chiefs around the country have seen fit to avoid collaboration with ICE as much as possible. They recognize that ICE operating in their communities is the true public safety threat.

Sheriff Russo needs to face the truth. If he wants to honor his obligation to serve and protect Rensselaer County, the truth is, working with ICE is the worst way to do it.

Joe Paparone is an organizer with ICE-Free Capital District.

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