Editorial

Declare Nassau a sanctuary county

Posted

The promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty — “send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me” — is the promise of hope that America makes to those who come to our shores seeking refuge from violence, poverty and natural disasters. True to that promise, in 1990, Congress created Temporary Protected Status, which has allowed roughly 437,000 refugees from 10 countries to live and work here legally, until their home countries are prepared to take them back.

In most cases, those countries are simply not ready. Even where the initial impetus for TPS has long passed, other woes, like economic downturns, political upheavals or gang violence, make it inhumane to send people back.

But that hasn’t stopped the Trump administration. Although candidate Donald Trump campaigned against illegal immigration in 2016, as president, he has taken aim at people who immigrated here legally, like TPS and DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — recipients.

The expiration of each country’s TPS designation will do little more than turn a large swath of documented immigrants into undocumented immigrants, who will have to abandon their mortgages, take off-the-books jobs, and in other ways be limited to an underground economy. They will be barred from contributing to their communities as they have done for 17 years — as taxpayers, parents and neighbors.

There’s nothing local officials can do about the way the federal government is handling TPS. But if they don’t do something, the county will face a range of problems: zombie houses created by the deportations of homeowners, which could attract criminals; the removal of over $700 million from the local economy; the erosion of communication between immigrant communities and law enforcement.

We urge officials, especially County Executive Laura Curran, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and County Sheriff Vera Flood, to take steps to act as a buffer against this federal intrusion into our communities by declaring Nassau County a sanctuary county.

“Sanctuary” has become a buzzword, and the term has been demonized by its opponents. But in reality, it’s simply an acknowledgement that sometimes the federal government’s interests don’t align with local interests, and in those cases, local authorities shouldn’t have to subvert their own priorities simply because the feds demand it.

Forcing TPS recipients underground could do great damage to public safety. We’ve heard from Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas’s office and from police officials that without the trust of immigrants, law enforcement loses a valuable tool for fighting domestic abusers and violent gangs like MS-13. These gangs prey on and recruit vulnerable youth in the immigrant community, and if otherwise concerned parents are too worried about being deported to talk to police, that will make it that much harder for the authorities to deport the criminals who pose a real threat to our county.

It’s the job of local law enforcement to protect us from such threats, and if that means publicly reassuring undocumented people — or in the case of TPS recipients, soon-to-be de-documented people — that they needn’t worry about showing up in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement database, then that’s what the police should do.

If the county were to take these steps, it would fall to Curran to sell the move politically. She has repeatedly stated that she does not believe that declaring the county a sanctuary is the right approach. However, we suspect that she’s trying to distance herself from a vicious and racist campaign mailer sent out by her opponent last fall that accused her of being soft on gangs. If we’re right, it means that good policy has been usurped by dog-whistle politics. The decisions of elected leaders must be dictated by their consciences, not the lowbrow tactics of their opponents.

We urge Curran to be courageous. She should work to persuade the public that sanctuary is a public safety measure, and that ICE’s aggressive actions are aiding and abetting MS-13 by keeping local informants too afraid to speak up. If she can set an example to the county by embracing our neighbors of 17 years as just that — our neighbors, worthy of our protection — we can focus on eradicating the criminals that plague their neighborhoods.