NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— Following a backlash from members in the community, the North Salem Town Board has decided to temporarily shelve an immigration resolution that was initially discussed at its March 15 meeting.
The measure was up for discussion again at its March 28 meeting. Board members said they had received numerous calls and emails from concerned residents urging them to reconsider the resolution, and as a result, they have opted to put it on hold until a future meeting when they can discuss it further with Deputy Supervisor Peter Kamenstein, who was absent from the meeting, along with North Salem Police Chief Thomas Howley.
The proposed resolution discussed on March 15 was twofold. One part of the resolution sought to go on record as condemning anti-Semitism, following the recent spate of anti-Semitic vandalism incidents at John Jay High School in Lewisboro. Swastikas were found scrawled in school bathrooms on four occasions, prompting the Bedford Town Board to draft a resolution condemning anti-Semitism.
Like the Bedford resolution, North Salem included wording addressing the issue of illegal immigration.
A preliminary draft read:
The Town Board of the Town of North Salem wants to affirmatively state that we always have been and continue to be a community that protects the rights of all of its residents regardless of their national origin.
Our police department practices are designed to promote mutual respect and to maintain an open dialog with our community. This is why we believe that immigration enforcement is not the role of the town. The town will, however, coordinate with federal authorities to apprehend those individuals, regardless of their immigration status, that threaten the safety of our community.
The Town of North Salem Police Department has not in the past, nor will it, inquire about an individual’s immigration status. Enforcement of federal immigration law is the responsibility of the federal government and its various enforcement agencies.
Councilman Martin Aronchick, who had been tasked with writing the resolution, argued to keep the anti-Semitism language in the measure.
“One thing that concerned me were the instances of anti-Semitism in the area. (County Executive) Rob Astorino has created a task force to advise temples on security measures, so it’s a live issue,” he said, adding that he referenced that in the updated draft of the resolution.
But at its meeting on March 28, Supervisor Warren Lucas explained the reason for reconsidering the immigration portion of the resolution.
“We have gotten a lot of complaints about sanctuary cities and things of that nature. There’s probably a way of doing what you’d like to do,” he said referring to Aronchick, “ I didn’t think it was going to be very divisive, but it turns out it has become so. So that whole thing with the immigrant status, I’m happy to take that out,” Lucas said.
Lucas went on to explain that he was surprised by the backlash against the proposed resolution.
“It kind of amazes me. You think you’re doing something that’s purposeful and worthwhile and that it can get as much out of hand as it has, with emails and things of that nature,” he said.
He then made a motion to table the original resolution, as it was worded, and go forward with one that simply addresses anti-Semitism.
“It’s turned something that I thought was very inclusive and pulled people together, and it’s caused more problems,” Lucas said.
Councilman Brent Golisano agreed with the plan of action.
“One of the questions I have asked is why we should do something like this. We all took an oath of office swearing to uphold the constitution of the State of New York and the U.S. Constitution, and all of the issues that are in these two resolutions are already covered by those two documents that we have sworn to uphold. “
“I don’t really feel this is the business of the town board. Things such as solar energy issues, even issues of revaluation, those issues in my opinion have to do with running the town. I am of the opinion that we could really table both of the resolutions, at the very least until Peter (Kamenstein) is here and (Police) Chief Howley,” said Golisano.
Aronchick countered by explaining that while working on the wording of the resolution, he didn’t “change the substance in any way,” except to reference the employee handbook.”
“I appreciate that,” responded Golisano, “But I still come back to the very simple question as to why this board would make an affirmative political statement like that.”
Councilwoman Lisa Douglas expressed relief that the resolution is being tabled.
“If we really, really analyze the emails we’ve received, North Salem has two specific instances where we all could understand why this hit a horrible nerve,” Douglas said, referring to two cases where crimes were committed by illegal immigrants in North Salem in recent years. While she didn’t specifically name them, Douglas was referencing the recent arrests of two undocumented immigrants who worked at the Colley estate and were convicted of stealing more than $30,000 in hay from the family.
The murder of North Salem resident Lois Colley has not been solved, and there are unconfirmed reports that the killing may have been committed by an undocumented immigrant who has since left the country.
In 2005, North Salem High School student Elizabeth Butler was raped and murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend, 28-year-old Ariel Menendez, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala.
“So, it’s (the resolution) not necessary at this point,” Douglas said.