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Schenectady council to discuss immigration policy

Schenectady council to discuss immigration policy

4 members offer resolution focused on federal reform
Schenectady council to discuss immigration policy
Late February: About 20 people urged the City Council to make Schenectady a sanctuary city.
Photographer: BRETT SAMUELS

Schenectady City Council members are poised to discuss how to best show support for the city’s immigrant population, following weeks of calls from some residents to make the municipality a sanctuary for undocumented citizens.

Still unsupportive of declaring Schenectady a sanctuary city, four council members have instead introduced a resolution that would call on the federal government to reform the immigration system while protecting city residents. That, along with language from other council members, will be discussed during an April 17 committee meeting.

For the last couple months, a small but vocal group of residents have attended bi-weekly council meetings and expressed support for designating Schenectady as a sanctuary city. Those calls largely fell on deaf ears, with only three of the city’s seven council members supporting publicly discussing the subject.

The four holdouts — Ed Kosiur, John Mootooveren, John Polimeni and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas — have co-sponsored a resolution calling on the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform, “and enforce the nation’s immigration laws in a humane manner that does not disrupt the lives of city residents.”

The resolution will be part of a broader council discussion about immigration and how the city can best address it, Council President Leesa Perazzo said. Though the resolution was ready Monday night, two council members were absent, so Perazzo chose to postpone the discussion until the April 17 committee meetings.

“The only reason I’m putting this off is I feel it’s important for the entire council to be at the table for this discussion,” Perazzo said.

There’s not majority support on the council for becoming a sanctuary city, Polimeni said, but he thinks the resolution they’ve come up with should satisfy many who are worried about the city’s undocumented population.

“Immigration is a federal concern,” he said. “This is saying, as a city, we want the federal government to develop comprehensive reform that protects our city’s residents.”

The four council members had been working on it for the last five or six weeks, but wanted to make sure they had the appropriate language before presenting it, Polimeni said. The draft was spurred by concerns over how federal budget issues and proposed travel bans might impact the city, he added.

If passed, the resolution would not change anything in the city, but rather would formalize the city’s support for federal immigration reform.

For the past eight weeks, city and county residents have come to regular council meetings asking the council to make Schenectady a sanctuary city. A half-dozen residents spoke on Feb. 13 in support of the cause. Every two weeks since, about 20 people have spoken and held signs reiterating their message. In each case, a few people spoke in opposition to becoming a sanctuary city.

The distinction has no official definition, but generally means local police would not enforce federal immigration laws or detain undocumented immigrants, leaving Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to do the job themselves.

Mayor Gary McCarthy has said previously that ICE is not asking the city to go enforce detainers, and that calling Schenectady a sanctuary city wouldn’t change the way it operates.

It could, however, affect federal funding, something Polimeni said should be taken into consideration.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the Department of Justice would pull grants from jurisdictions violating federal immigration laws.

In response, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a statement saying the president’s administration lacks the authority to cut off funding for those reasons.

In addition to the resolution brought forth by the four council members, Perazzo said she and Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, who was absent Monday night, have language they’d like to bring forward about supporting the city’s immigrants.

“We’re going to talk about all of the possibilities that people would like to bring to the table,” Perazzo said. “Then we’ll come to consensus as to what the council as a majority might feel comfortable with going forward.”

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