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The Legislature, by a vote of 11-2, adopted a resolution declaring the Legislature’s commitment to preserve public safety for all in Tompkins County, following President Trump’s issuance of an the executive order month regarding enforcement of federal immigration law. (Legislators Dave McKenna and Glenn Morey voted no; Legislator Mike Sigler was excused.) The resolution’s stated purpose is “to maintain a safe, inclusive government and protection, order, conduct, safety, health, and well-being of all persons in Tompkins County.”
Health and Human Services Committee Chair Anna Kelles, who drafted the detailed, five-page resolution, again stressed that the measure is not termed a “sanctuary” resolution—that “Sanctuary,” is not a legal definition but a political definition. “It felt important to me…to leave that word out and focus on the essence of what this is—which is to ensure public safety for all,” she said, with the focus on protections that maximize public safety for all residents, while aligning with existing federal laws and the US Constitution.
The resolution states that “the Tompkins County Legislature affirms its support for the current practices of our Sheriff and our departments…as they pertain to the County’s aim to maintain a safe, inclusive government and the protection, order, conduct, safety, health, and well-being of all persons in Tompkins County, and urges continued adherence to constitutional, federal, and state laws.” Ms. Kelles said the measure recognizes the responsibilities of local law enforcement to preserve public safety, and the responsibility of the federal government to protect the entire country and its borders.
The measure, in part, affirms that County departments, officers, personnel, and agents should not engage in certain activities solely for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration law; that they should honor detainer requests from federal agents only in limited specified circumstances, such as those accompanied by a judicial warrant; and that, absent a judicial warrant, they will not disclose certain non-public, sensitive information about an individual.
More than 50 people packed Legislature Chambers, and more than 20 addressed the Legislature before the voting, nearly all urging passage of the resolution, as a positive way to assure all in this community and preserve fundamental human rights. Among them was City of Ithaca Common Council member Cynthia Brock, who said it addresses principles, laws, and budgets, and “sends a clear message to the community that all individuals will get the protections and services of Tompkins County.” Speaker Randy Brown, however, dissented, maintaining that Legislators, by considering the resolution, were distracted from their true purpose and should focus on serving the people of this county.
Legislator Rich John said there are good reasons why the Legislature should consider this—that what’s going on in this country does affect us, and that, with people here from all over the world, it matters economically, as our community’s “lifeblood.” Several Legislators reflected on the experiences of their ancestors, as immigrants, and Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, a naturalized US citizen, talked about her own experiences, and those of friends and family members.
Legislature Chair Michael Lane said to restate what he has said before, that “we are the best county in what I think is the best state. We look at the people who come to us from other countries as a resource—they are so much a part of what we have here…We don’t build walls in Tompkins County; we open our hearts…We want people to know that they are safe here.” He observed that he didn’t “recall this country in disarray before (the new administration came in on) January 20th.” Recounting the area’s long history in welcoming refugees over the years, Chair Lane said, “This does not do anything different, except it puts Tompkins County on the map that we will continue to be a welcoming law-abiding county, and we will do that for our people.”