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Rensselaer County Sheriff Not Elected to do ICE’s Bidding

By: Melanie Trimble Chapter Director, Capital Region

In November Rensselaer County Sheriff Pat Russo applied to a Trump administration program that would turn local law enforcement officers into de facto immigration agents.

If the deal goes through, it would put public safety at risk and cost county tax dollars – money spent to cruelly separate families and target immigrant communities. And, if it goes through the way the Sheriff prefers, it will have been done behind closed doors, without legislative or public input.

This deal with the federal government, known as a 287(g) agreement, diverts local law enforcement officers, asking them to work directly under the control of an ICE supervisor to investigate, detain and help deport people for civil immigration violations. Sheriff Russo intends to train four of his officers, who would become foot soldiers in the Trump regime’s cruel war on immigrants.

Such agreements take local officers away from their regular law enforcement duties, making it more difficult to address local public safety. The agreements also erode the trust between officers and the people they protect. That trust is critical for effective law enforcement.

As families and whole communities across the country are being torn apart by dramatically increased ICE arrests, people are living in fear that they could be next. The proposed partnership between ICE and Rensselaer County would signal to immigrant communities that the officers they expect to serve them are working hand-in-hand with immigration authorities. Immigrants, their friends and their families will have reason to fear reporting crimes, cooperating with investigations or reaching out during emergencies. A call to law enforcement could put them or the people they care about in danger of being deported.

Law enforcement officers across the country know this. In fact, 71 percent of law enforcement respondents to a recent national survey by American University said that because immigrants face barriers to engaging with law enforcement, officers were less able to hold criminals accountable. This is why only 59 jurisdictions out of thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country participate in 287(g) – and not a single one in the state of New York.

It is the job of Rensselaer officers to serve and protect their community, not to do the bidding of ICE.

Sheriff Russo’s proposed agreement wouldn’t just take time and resources away from public safety, it will divert taxpayer dollars too. The Sheriff has claimed that the 287(g) program will bring revenue into the county, but this fundamentally misunderstands how it works.

While officers would act as deputized ICE agents, they would still be paid by the county. ICE does not contribute to local officers’ salaries. The county would also have to pay for any overtime required for officers to participate in the program, whose duties and schedules would be determined by whatever ICE needs. Deputized officers would also be required to go through a four-week training course out of state. Under the standard agreement, the county would foot the bill for travel, lodging and meals for the whole exercise. The county would also be on the hook for all administrative supplies. These costs would quickly pile up without any benefit to county residents.

Perhaps because he recognizes the risks of signing up to follow ICE’s marching orders, Sheriff Russo has been tight-lipped about the agreement. He appears ready to subject local law enforcement officers to the supervision of federal authorities to enforce federal immigration law without a full opportunity for county residents and their elected representatives to weigh in. He has never directly addressed the full county legislature about his interest in 287(g) and he has refused to hold a public hearing about it.

Something this risky, callous and costly should not be hidden from the public. Sheriff Russo must at least make his case to the people he was elected to serve.

Rensselaer County has much to lose and nothing to gain from a potential 287(g) agreement. The Sheriff still has a chance to walk away from this deal and, by doing so, ensure that immigrants are not pushed further into the shadows and that public safety remains the top priority.

It is the job of Rensselaer officers to serve and protect their community, not to do the bidding of ICE.

This piece originally appeared as an op-ed in the February 10, 2018 edition of the Troy Record

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