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As Anti-Bias Task Force objects, Town Board members stand by statements

07/27/2015 3:13 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a Hispanic bicyclist on West Main Street in downtown Riverhead in 2009.

Members of the Riverhead Town Anti-Bias Task Force say recent comments made by some members of the Town Board may “undermine the work that we’re doing to try to bring the community together.”

But some of those members, including the liaison to that committee, stand by their statements, noting that they don’t want the town to be seen as a haven for anyone who comes into the country illegally.

At the Town Board’s meeting on Tuesday, Connie Lassandro, chair of the recently restarted Anti-Bias Task Force, called on the board to clarify their comments which were made in an article on RiverheadLocal.com, in which board members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy said the town should hold those wanted by federal immigration authorities to be interviewed.

Councilman George Gabrielsen suggested a further step, and advocated for town police to hold illegal immigrants for federal authorities if they’re stopped or pulled over.

The board members’ comments came in response to the fatal shooting of a San Francisco woman, allegedly by an immigrant with a “lengthy rap sheet” who was back in the country illegally after being deported several times, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In the RiverheadLocal article, Councilman James Wooten said the police department is already too taxed to handle enforcing federal laws.

And under the law, Ms. Lassandro noted, no person — illegal immigrant or legal citizen — can be held against his or her will without a warrant.

“You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to have him arrested just because,’” she said. “You can’t assume and stereotype a certain nationality. It’s wrong.”

Town Supervisor Sean Walter said on Monday that changing the town’s police policy would open up questions of civil rights violations.

“In this country, regardless of your immigration status, we don’t lock people up without having probable cause or an arrest warrant,” Mr. Walter said. “This country is replete with negative history when we’ve done things like this. It’s not something I would like started in this town.”

He said the town “stands ready, willing, and able to work with federal immigration authorities,” though he added the government has shown a “complete disregard” for enforcing the rules already on the books.

The town’s current policy calls for those who are wanted on warrants to be held for further questioning. Immigration-specific warrants through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement are referred to as “ICE holds.”

Those who don’t have a warrant can be held during the day, but will be released at night.

During a radio interview on WRIV 1390 last week, Ms. Giglio — who is running to replace Mr. Walter as Town Supervisor — said the board will discuss changing the town’s police policy to hold more illegal immigrants if they are identified.

“If the federal government wants to interview them, we need to figure out a way to hold them in a timely fashion and get the federal government here to interview them and either dismiss them or take them,” she said. “But we can’t just turn the other way.”

Ms. Giglio said she fears Riverhead Town may be developing a reputation as a haven for criminals. However, she said her comments were not biased or targeted toward any ethnic group.

“I’m not a racist,” she said in the interview. “[Criminals] can come from anywhere; it doesn’t matter where they come from, it doesn’t matter who they are. They need to be reported.”

On Monday, Mr. Gabrielsen clarified his stance to the News-Review. He said he’s primarily concerned with public safety, and wants to ensure that undocumented drivers who are accused of “decently major” crimes be handed over to federal authorities to prevent future offenses.

“America is a country of law and order,” he said. “I’m worried about stopping the next incident.”

He said his main frustration was with federal authorities, who he said don’t provide the town with enough guidance or resources to deal with undocumented immigrants.

Mr. Gabrielsen said his comments shouldn’t be interpreted as biased, saying he knows most Hispanic residents are law-abiding, good people.

“Spanish people are actually a religious people,” he said. “I definitely don’t have anything against making it work out with them. But we can’t do nothing. We can’t ignore [this].”

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