A New York state sheriff who has zagged as the rest of his state has zigged said Monday morning that he decided to sign on to a federal immigration initiative in order to keep his community safe.
“We want the criminals out of our county,” Sheriff Patrick Russo said on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”
The Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office in January became the only one in the state to join the 287(g) program that promotes cooperation between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement authorities.
Under the program, ICE officers will train two sheriff’s office employees to identify potential illegal immigrants booked in the jail. Unlike “sanctuary” jurisdictions that have proliferated in New York and throughout the country, Rensselaer County will honor hold requests issued by ICE.
Russo (pictured above) has taken heat for his cooperation. Alphonso David, the chief counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, told The New York Times that the agreement Russo struck is “contrary to the public policy and values of our state.”
Immigration advocates frequently contend that cooperating with federal immigration authorities hurts public safety in local communities because it discourages immigrants — legal and illegal — from reporting crimes.
But Russo rejected that argument.
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“You hear all the time where there’s people who are — whether they kill somebody in a car accident, whether they murder somebody, and they shouldn’t be in the country, and they’ve been deported several times,” he said. “So this is just another tool in the toolbox for me to make our county safer.”
Russo said failing to remove illegal immigrants who commit crimes disproportionately impacts immigrant neighborhoods.
“They prey on their own,” he said. “And by removing the criminal element, you’re going to make the community safer for everybody, including the immigrants.”
The 287(g) program started under President Bill Clinton and continued under President George W. Bush. But former President Barack Obama sharply curtailed the program, and the number of participating agencies plummeted from 72 in 2011 to 37 by the beginning of President Donald Trump’s administration, according to Time magazine.
Rensselaer County’s participation in the program represents little more than a symbolic blow to illegal immigrant crime in New York State. The largely rural county roughly 150 miles north of New York City has few illegal immigrants.
But Russo said he does not want to allow even one avoidable crime to occur in his county.
“I don’t want to have to, nor do I want any of my people, to have to go to somebody and say, ‘Your loved one’s not coming home tonight’ because they were killed in an automobile accident, whatever, who we had, were able to detain and remove from the county, and we did not do that,” he said.
Russo said his focus is on crime, not illegal immigration generally.
“The program that we just signed up for targets the actual criminals, people who have been charged with a crime and are in Rensselaer County Jail,” he said. “The other people, I think that’s over and above me … My job is to keep the county safe, and that’s the reason I signed up for the 287(g) program.”
(photo credit, homepage and article images: Sheriff Pat Russo)