Tompkins County, NY – The Tompkins County sheriff has written a new policy dictating how deputies should deal with illegal immigrants and federal immigration authorities after a Mexican national was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Wednesday.
Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne said a deputy responded to an emergency call late on Tuesday night, after a man entered a closed doctor’s office shortly before midnight and told the cleaning crew he was there to have his blood pressure checked, according to The Cornell Daily Sun.
The man provided a fake name and date of birth to the deputy but offered the fact that he was in the United States illegally.
So the deputy took the man into custody and called ICE, The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
The man was held at the jail in the Public Safety Building until ICE officers arrived to pick him up on Wednesday morning.
“For whatever reason, the deputy felt inclined to reach out to ICE who did respond and picked him up,” Sheriff Osborne said. “This type of interaction where ICE gets involved is not at all what my Sheriff’s Office is going to be involved with.”
The Tompkins County Legislature voted 11 to 2 in February of 2017 to restrict when county employees, including law enforcement, could enforce immigration law, The Cornell Daily Sun reported.
According to the county’s resolution, deputies and other Tompkins County personnel “shall not provide federal agents with access to an individual in their custody or the use of agency facilities or resources to question or interview such individual if the federal agent’s sole purpose is enforcement of federal immigration law.”
The Cornell Daily Sun reported that the county’s sanctuary policy also says deputies shall not perform “the functions of a federal immigration officer” or otherwise participate “in the enforcement of federal immigration law.”
However, the deputy’s actions didn’t break that law because it is superseded by a federal law that prohibits the municipality from barring government officials from reporting illegal aliens to federal immigration authorities, Cornell Professor Kathleen Bergin said.
Bergin helped draft the Tompkins County sanctuary policy, according to The Cornell Daily Sun.
“I think it’s a super close call but that no, what the officer did is not a violation of the sanctuary resolution, but he wasn’t required to do that,” Bergin said.
But the author of the county’s sanctuary bill was not happy.
Anna Kelles, a Democrat who represents the City of Ithaca, told The Cornell Daily Sun that although the deputy didn’t break the law, he violated the spirit of the county resolution.
“We as legislators tried to create an environment where people could feel safe,” Kelles said. “We don’t want people to not trust or not believe in our law enforcement. Law enforcement is here to protect the safety of all human beings in our municipality and if that breaks down, that’s a problem.”
But it turned out that the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office does not have a policy in place to dictate deputies’ interactions with ICE, and the newly-elected sheriff didn’t know it.
Following the incident on Feb. 6, Sheriff Osborne moved quickly to write a policy for his department that mirrored the intent of the county’s sanctuary resolution.
He told The Cornell Daily Sun he worked with the New York Immigration Coalition to draft the rules for his deputies and even asked them to make sure the man detained had been provided with an attorney.
“That’s how seriously I’m taking this,” Sheriff Osborne said.
The sheriff said he wanted to create an environment where “people shouldn’t be fearful about calling for help,” according to The Cornell Daily Sun.
He has not released the name of the deputy who called ICE.
“The deputy thought he was doing the right thing at the time but it’s definitely not the way I want these calls handled moving forward,” Sheriff Osborne told The Cornell Daily Sun.
He said the deputy will not face any disciplinary action, The Ithaca Voice reported.
"I can't go back in time to fix the situation, but I can work to ensure it doesn't happen in the future," Sheriff Osborne said.
The sheriff’s new policy prohibits deputies from notifying ICE or cooperating with federal immigration authorities without a judicial warrant.