Across the country, many municipalities are grappling with the idea of challenging federal law and providing forms of sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. One local legislator believes proposals for sanctuary policies are on the rise, and is out to ensure Erie County doesn’t adopt one.
Legislator Ted Morton submitted a resolution to the County Legislature on Thursday to re-affirm the county’s non-sanctuary status and encourage subordinate localities to follow suit. The Cheektowaga Republican said he’s trying to be proactive, and he’s hoping to gain support from his colleagues in government. Though there hasn’t been much official discussion of the resolution yet, Morton is finding the subject to be a concern amongst the public.
“In the last week I have had more people approach me in support of my resolution than any other issue I’ve ever been associated with in three years,” he said.
The resolution aims to reiterate the commitment of the county and its law enforcement to federal immigration law, while affirming that the county will not become a sanctuary community.
“My whole resolution is not knocking on doors and questioning people about their status,” said Morton. “But if police do arrest somebody – especially for felons – and, during their investigation of who that person is and whatever, find that they’re here illegally, the federal law says the federal government, ICE, should be contacted to see if they want to pursue deportation.”
The month of October saw 25 undocumented workers at three Mexican restaurants in Erie County rounded up by federal immigration agents. All of the undocumented workers were faced with deportation, and their three employers faced possible prison time and hefty fines for harboring them.
Morton said he’s glad that the government is cracking down on the employers who harbored the undocumented workers and profited from their labor, but also frustrated that the situation even exists.
“We have a lot of good, honest, hardworking legal people here who do need better employment than some of them have right now.”
On Friday, WBFO heard reaction to Morton’s resolution from County Executive Mark Poloncarz. At the time, Poloncarz had yet to read it for himself, but said he had heard about it from a couple of county Legislators. Poloncarz said they were shocked that Morton introduced the resolution.
“I think that they’re hoping that it wasn’t introduced, because it’s a topic they don’t want to talk about – even on the Republican side,” said Poloncarz.
Poloncarz pointed out that, unlike other parts of the country, Erie County doesn’t generally have an issue with undocumented immigrants.
“Most of the immigrants that are coming here are legal,” said Poloncarz. “They go through the proper mechanisms. What I’m disappointed to hear is that some of the discussion out there is to stop all immigration, even legal immigration – which I don’t think is appropriate.”
Morton said he agrees that the vast majority of immigrants in the county are here legally.
“I agree with immigration. Immigration is what has made this country great,” Morton said.
Morton specified that his resolution has nothing to do with people who have entered the country legally. The focus is on those who may be present illegally.
“If that became the law of the land, and if Erie County did become a sanctuary community, that would be terrible, financially, for us. It is something that to me, right now, is not a concern, but I can understand why the President-elect would want to do that.”
The resolution will be looked at during its first committee meeting on December 8, and Morton expects there will be much more discussion of it in the next few days.