February 7, 2019

EDITORIAL: An Unacceptable Disregard for Sanctuary

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A Tompkins County sheriff’s deputy’s unprompted decision to alert ICE to the presence of an undocumented immigrant in Lansing — an action likely not in violation of county “sanctuary” law but very much against its spirit — is deeply disturbing, and warrants significant review. It may already be too late to help the man in question, who now sits in a federal cell in Batavia. But Tompkins County can take steps to ensure this situation goes unrepeated, and to reassure the county’s undocumented residents that they are welcome here and should not fear local law enforcement.

It is puzzling why the Sheriff’s Office did not have an internal policy outlining the protocol for situations involving federal immigration enforcement, especially considering that Tompkins County’s sanctuary law passed in 2017 and is potentially germane to that office’s functions. Though we are encouraged by Sheriff Derek Osborne’s work since the arrest to draft an internal policy mirroring county law — and we do note that Osborne only took office six weeks ago — there should be a review of why it took so long, and a precipitating incident such as this one, to spark change.

Furthermore, it must be determined if the deputy truly believed he was acting according to procedure, as Sheriff Osborne stated to The Sun. Though we certainly don’t have all the facts yet, sanctuary cities have been a topic of significant national prominence and discussion over the past two and a half years. In Ithaca specifically, there have been several high-profile incidents involving ICE over the past two years that have raised the question of sanctuary municipalities. All that is to say that it is unacceptable for a sworn officer of the law to be unaware of current county policy on this matter, and of the wide-reaching implications of his actions.

Federal law states that local governments “cannot prohibit government officials from reporting someone’s immigration status” — but even though the deputy did not violate the county law, he most certainly undermined it. Now, undocumented residents of Tompkins County have renewed reason to avoid contact with law enforcement or any government officials for fear of being arrested by ICE. People in need may forgo emergency services, medical attention, and other integral services offered by the county. Siccing ICE on a man who just wanted his blood pressure checked in no way makes Tompkins County safer. Indeed, it makes it more dangerous for some of our most vulnerable residents.

There’s no place in the Sheriff’s Office for a deputy who makes the county more dangerous. If it turns out the deputy knew he was not compelled to contact ICE, and was aware of the statute establishing Tompkins as a sanctuary county, perhaps the Sheriff’s Office is not the best place for him. And even if the explanation is any more charitable to the deputy, it will take significant effort on the part of the Sheriff’s Office to repair the trust that was broken. Helping secure the release of the arrested man would be a good start.