Leave immigration issues up to the feds, local police chiefs say

Last month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a series of operations across the country, prompting discussions about how local police departments should handle immigration.

Police chiefs on the North Fork have shown that they’re on the same page when it comes to policies involving undocumented immigrants, which remain unchanged and ultimately leave matters of immigration up to federal officials and ICE.

Two weeks ago, police chiefs across New York took part in a webinar, sponsored by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, that offered basic suggestions and guidance regarding immigration and sanctuary cities, according to Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley. Subsequently, local police chiefs met to discuss immigration issues, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said.

While some police departments around the country have entered into agreements with ICE to facilitate its immigration work, Chief Flatley said last Thursday he’s not aware of any departments in the state poised to do that.

“Our department is set up to do basic law enforcement for the Town of Southold and really not to specialize in immigration work,” he said. “We’re leaving that up to the people that are being paid to do immigration work, so I don’t think that will change.”

He said the public will not see a major change in the day-to-day operations of the department as far as immigration goes. It will be ICE that does any follow-up on undocumented immigrants and deportation proceedings, he said.

At a Southold Town Board work session Tuesday, Chief Flatley said he is working on updating the general orders for the department as a whole and will present them to the Town Board next week.

In Riverhead, Chief Hegermiller said his department does not inquire about immigration status as a standard practice.

“We’re not going out there asking anyone if they’re here legally or illegally,” he said. “We only deal with people that commit crimes.”

If someone is arrested in the town and police run a criminal history on that person, the department might be alerted to immigration status if ICE has a warrant out on the individual, the chief explained. If ICE doesn’t want them, then they would just go through the system as normal, he said.

“We’re here to protect and serve everyone in the Town of Riverhead and we don’t want anyone to be afraid to come to us to report a crime, or whatever, if they feel there’s a problem with their immigration status,” he said. “That’s why we have that kind of policy.”

The town department might not know of an independent arrest by ICE unless they are asked to assist and provide additional safety for all involved, the chief said.

Last month, ICE made two arrests in Riverhead as part of an operation that “targeted public safety threats,” such as convicted criminals, gang members and those who re-entered the country after being deported, ICE officials said in a statement. The individuals arrested were not named, but each had prior convictions.

Shelter Island Chief of Police Jim Read relayed a similar policy and said he has had no reason to change any protocol with officers there since the new administration took the helm in January.

Local police aren’t charged with enforcing immigration laws now any more than they were during the Obama administration, Chief Read said.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that with an administrative warrant, not one signed by a judge, correctional facilities under its jurisdiction can detain undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours when they are wanted by ICE, although it’s unlikely someone would be held that long.

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With Julie Lane

Photo: During Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley (right) discusses the webinar on immigration and sanctuary cities he and other police chiefs across New York took part in. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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