YORKTOWN, N.Y. – In an unlisted agenda item, the Yorktown Town Board on Sept. 5 approved a resolution supporting County Executive Rob Astorino’s decision to veto immigration legislation passed by the Westchester County Board of Legislators.
Yorktown’s resolution was approved shortly after 9:30 p.m. by a 4 to 1 vote, with all town board Republicans supporting it. Councilman Vishnu Patel, the lone Democrat on the board, voted against the resolution, saying he did not have enough time to review it.
“I just received it and I want to talk to my lawyer because I just got it,” Patel said. “And I’m not going to vote on this one now. I do not want to vote this one. Take it back. I need to speak to my lawyer.”
Last month, the Westchester County Board of Legislators voted 10 to 5 to adopt the Immigrant Protection Act (referred to in Yorktown’s resolution as Act 165-2017). The act was intended to ensure that all county residents have access to county services by prohibiting county agencies from inquiring about immigration status (unless the situation requires it); using county resources to create a registry of residents for the purposes of “immigration profiling”; communicating with federal agencies regarding its citizens’ immigration status; and more.
Astorino vetoed the act nine days after its passage, saying it “endangers public safety, violates federal law, infringes upon long-established principles of law enforcement cooperation and jeopardizes millions in federal public safety grants.”
The town’s resolution contains similar language, saying its adoption would make the county a “sanctuary jurisdiction,” putting it in conflict with federal immigration policies, thereby potentially costing Westchester and Yorktown federal grant money.
“As the son of a German immigrant who also survived the Holocaust, I fully acknowledge the important role immigrants have had in shaping our nation,” Town Supervisor Michael Grace said in a press release. “However, we are also a nation of laws and it is simply absurd to provide sanctuary to dangerous criminals who are here illegally. I applaud County Executive Astorino’s courage and leadership in protecting the Constitution.”
Councilman Tom Diana, a retired police officer, said based on his experience, “lives will be put at risk” if the act was to pass.
“Not to mention, by putting up barriers between law enforcement agencies, would require duplicative actions, equipment and time that would only cost taxpayers more money and prolong ongoing operations,” Diana said. “It is clear this legislation was written with a political objective in mind and not one for enhanced public safety.”
County Board Chairman Mike Kaplowitz, a Democrat and one of Yorktown’s two representatives on the County Board of Legislators, called the town board’s resolution a “kneejerk” reaction and a “rank political move.” Kaplowitz said the act would not have made Westchester a “sanctuary jurisdiction” and would not have put Westchester at risk of losing federal funding.
“Proof of their haste and their lack of deliberation is they wouldn’t allow debate and discussion on it when one of their councilmembers asked for more time,” Kaplowitz said. “It’s kind of sad they need to, in the middle of the night, pass something the public doesn’t have a chance to scrutinize. It is disappointing that public officials wouldn’t spend a little bit more time on deliberating an issue that really is important and that many people are affected by.”
At the meeting, Patel said “the whole thing is really, really wrong.” He said the resolution was a “dirty trick” because the public was not aware of it. He criticized the board for waiting until the end of the meeting to pass it, rather than at the beginning when more people were in the room.
“I know what’s going on over there,” Patel said. “I know what’s going on with Astorino. I saw him. I saw him before, OK? I cannot vote like this. You just sneak it in. Nobody’s here, OK? People should be here. This is some kind of trick, you brought it in here tonight. Go ahead and do whatever you want.”
Diana, who read the resolution into record, said it was prepared the day before the meeting. On meeting days, board members are able to pick up binders from town hall containing information and resolutions for that evening. Diana said the page-and-half resolution was in his binder when he picked it up from town hall earlier in the day.
Patel said he is proud of what he and his children have given to America. Both of his children graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served overseas.
“My children were never in a prison bunk, OK?” Patel said. “And they have worked to keep America safe and they’re going to do it the rest of their lives.”
Diana, responding to Patel’s criticism, said Patel is being hypocritical because he also put forth a resolution that was not on the agenda. Twice during the meeting, Patel asked his fellow board members to transfer $2 million more into the town’s paving budget.
“It was prepared about the day before the meeting and it’s no different than the one he read to put anther $2 million into the budget for paving,” Diana said. “Unfortunately, he seems to think there’s a difference.”
Diana said there was no dubious reason for why the resolution was voted on two hours into the meeting, as opposed to at the beginning of the meeting.
“It’s just the way [the meeting] kind of flowed,” Diana said. “We got through the town’s business first, as we should.”