Immigrants Fear Uncertain Legal Future

Police chief seeks to reassure anxious residents

President Donald Trump’s pledge to deport undocumented immigrants and deny federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities, those where local officials have said they will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, has unnerved many South Fork residents. Those lacking legal status and their advocates are further concerned by the recent reversal of policy regarding immigrants by Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, who announced that he would no longer ask for a warrant before detaining immigrant inmates who may be subject to deportation.

Under the sheriff’s new policy, county correctional facilities will hold immigrants who have been detained on other charges, and for whom federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement have issued “hold” notices, for up to 48 hours, allowing that agency time to take them into custody.

 On the other hand, last week Eric Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general, announced that he is going to issue guidelines to local governments explaining how to resist federal immigration enforcement. In addition, earlier this month in the first of six state-of-the-state addresses, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed a fund that would provide legal representation for immigrants.

These conflicts between governing bodies have sown confusion among undocumented residents and their advocates. “There’s a lot of fear,” Minerva Perez, the executive director of Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, said on Tuesday. “Some is well founded, but some might be able to be alleviated a bit if we can get more information.”

Uncertainty, she said, promotes fear, “which is only doing unhealthy things to the community, both the undocumented and the documented.” She said immigrants charged with minor crimes, such as housing or automotive violations, and even victims of domestic violence, are worried about being labeled criminals and targeted for deportation.

“No one in the Latino community wants violence, criminals, or bad people on the street. We just want to make sure we’re not over-criminalizing groups and tacking on deportation,” she said.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said such fears were understandable but called them unfounded. “Some people are concerned that the sheriff’s decision is going to result in po ice departments going out and chasing people out of houses and deporting them. There’s a lot of misinformation caused by some heightened rhetoric. Some of it is not justified by the facts,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of rhetoric about building a wall and having people deported, and people are scared,” Mr. Cantwell said. “We should do what we can to reassure people that that’s not going to happen in this community. There is no policy in the Town of East Hampton to barge into people’s homes and deport them.”

Chief Michael Sarlo of the East Hampton Town Police Department also sought to assuage undocumented residents’ anxiety. “The only time our agency would be concerned with a subject’s immigration status is if they were arrested and charged with a crime and if during the processing of that arrest, we received an ICE hold hit and the subject would be wanted for removal,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.

 He also said ICE places holds only on those in the country illegally who have been convicted of a crime or face “serious criminal charges for which they have failed to appear in court.” The chief said such individuals are rarely encountered in East Hampton, “and when we do there are actually occasions wherein federal officials will tell our department that they will not be able to get out here within the 48 hours, so we process them and either present them for arraignment or release them on bail or appearance ticket for the charges for which they are in custody with our agency, as we would any other defendant.”

Despite positive discussions with law enforcement officials in East Hampton and Southampton, the Latino community remains fearful, Ms. Perez said. “Who’s not going to the hospital, who’s not calling 911, who’s not reporting a crime?” she asked. “The urgency is not letting law enforcement and public safety break down at the expense of fear.”

 Chief Sarlo further sought to relieve anxiety by reiterating that the ICE hold procedure applies only to those both in the country illegally and who have committed or been convicted of a serious crime. “Reporting a crime, being involved in an accident, being the victim of theft, etc., does not trigger our agency checking immigration status or running a person through the federal database.”

Mr. Cantwell said on Tuesday that he had not received word from the state attorney general about interaction with federal immigration authorities. “We certainly would want that before we came to conclusions as to how the town would deal with this,” he said.

Ms. Perez is continuing to follow what is being said about undocumented residents, “so we can put out there what is a reasonable request, so the most vulnerable on the East End are not dealing across the board with unnamable fear.” Undocumented immigrants, she said, “are working, getting their kids to school, and are part of our community.”