Last week Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan signed an Executive Order directing anyone in Ulster County Government to not coordinate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE], Customs and Border Control [CBP] officers or any other federal immigration entity.
The Order prohibits County employees, “from gathering information about immigration status or sharing information with ICE and CPB unless compelled to do so by law, or unless immigration status is relevant to the provision of County services.” This Order directs county employees not to comply with administration warrants that do not have a judge’s signature, “and have become a common vehicle for ICE and CPB officers to bypass the rights of due process afforded under the U. S. Constitution to all residents regardless of immigration status.”
At a press conference held at the Ulster County Restorative Justice and Community Empowerment Center in Kingston, Ryan laid out the reasons for issuing the Executive Order.
“In light of statements and threats coming out of Washington D.C. we are here to make a clear, unequivocal statement about our values as a county and our values as a community,” he said. “We reject division, we reject fear-mongering and we reject xenophobia. We stand for justice for every single person and resident in this county. We embrace diversity and we recognize in our diversity tremendous strength and value. We welcome everyone and anyone who wants to join and be a part of our community here in Ulster County.”
Ryan said as County Executive, it is his responsibility to ensure and protect the rights of every resident, “the 180,000 that we’re blessed to have living in this county. When people are forced to live in the shadows, we’re all less safe. When people are forced to live in the shadows of the economy, we suffer. When people are forced to live in the shadows, we fail to uphold the foundational principals that have guided our country since its inception.”
Ryan acknowledged that the country is being, “tested and challenged but in moments of challenge and crisis, that’s when we all have to step up and ask when leadership is called for.”
Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa echoed Ryan’s sentiments. He said local law enforcement does not have jurisdiction to enforce immigration laws but that is done by the federal government.
“You will never see local law enforcement going around knocking on doors and asking people for papers; that’s never happened and it never will, ever in this county,” he said.
Figueroa said county law enforcement interacts with ICE only when a crime has been committed, a misdemeanor or a felony. He added that he does not have any federal jurisdiction.
Figueroa pointed out that being in the country undocumented, “is a civil offense that’s handled by the federal government, not state and local authorities...These are the rules and laws that we’ve been under for many, many years but what is new is the federal government stating that they’re going to go around, knocking on doors and rounding people up. That’s not the country I’m from, which is the United States of America. That is not the community that I’m from; as a fellow Veteran who took the oath of office, just like the County Executive, I know what the oath is and I know what the Constitution is because I swore to it my entire life.”
Figueroa read the key portion of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, focusing on the phrase, “nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” He said, “the entire case of undocumented immigrants being covered and protected by the Constitution has been settled law for over 100 years and rests on one word; person. It is the word person that connects the dots of due process and equal protection...it is those words that make the Constitution of the United States and its 14th amendment the most important document since the Magna Carta and to me in all of world history. So I am here in support of the County Executive and in support of our Constitution.”
Fr. Frank Alagna, of the Ulster County Immigrant Defense Network, said the ongoing immigration debate might distract the nation from the “far more immediate and urgent agenda” of ensuring that any child crossing the U. S. border, “no matter how that crossing came to be, is safe, kept healthy and alive. One dead child is too many.” He noted that the children at the southern border, “are living in absolute deplorable conditions. They are cold, dirty, malnourished, sleep-deprived, at times sexually exploited, terrorized and traumatized.” Fr. Alagna said he wants to believe that, “we have the power to make the difference.” He said the real criminals are those in positions of power who have stood by and have let this situation happen.
“Bad people, morally bankrupt people and sick people abuse children. These are the ones to be targeted for law enforcement action,” he said.
Ryan concluded by saying, “I am proud of us that we, and so many of you in this room, have stood in rain and cold, have written powerful letters to the editor, have made your voices heard in every and any way that you can...Our democracy is being challenged and the only way that we resolve it is to embrace our responsibility as members of that democracy and make our voices heard and to continue to do that. So we are sending a message from here in Ulster County that this is what we stand for, this is what we’re about and I’m proud of that. This is going to help us to continue to grow and be a place where people want to come and build their family and thrive and embrace a diversity that makes this an incredible place.”