By Jason Emerson
In the wake of the arrest last month of two illegal immigrants in the village of Cazenovia, their subsequent transfer to federal custody and the concern raised by some local residents on the issue, the Cazenovia Village Board has issued new instructions to village police officers on how to handle similar situations in the future.
In an attempt to both abide by federal and state law and also avoid as much as possible getting embroiled in the national immigration policy debate, Cazenovia police officers will now shunt arrests involving illegal immigrants to county and state law enforcement officials who have a clearer jurisdiction in such cases, said Mayor Kurt Wheeler. If county or state police cannot or will not take custody of undocumented immigrants, or if Cazenovia police have no choice but to arrest and hold such immigrants, then the local police will handle the situation.
“Our primary responsibility is to ensure public safety and the safety of our residents,” Wheeler said. “This is obviously a very divisive national issue. We are a very welcoming community … This community prides itself on its ability to work together — I have no desire to poke a hornet’s nest on something that is a very rare occasion.”
The Cazenovia Police Department has faced three incidents of arresting illegal immigrants over the past seven years, according to Chief Michael Hayes.
“We don’t go looking for these individuals, but if they fall in my lap I have to do something,” Hayes said.
The issue stems from the Aug. 10 arrest of two Guatamalan men — initially stopped for erratic driving and the driver determined to be legally drunk — who carried false passports and turned out to be illegal immigrants. Both were then detained by the Cazenovia police and turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for immigration violations.
Further investigation showed that the driver, Francisco Nicolas Lucas Miranda, has already been deported from the U.S. once before, Hayes said.
During the Sept. 5 village board meeting, residents Carol Coufal and Laura Slivinski asked about the arrests and if there was any sort of policy in place for police to follow in these circumstances. The woman also urged the board to consider — and approve — declaring Cazenovia a “sanctuary city,” in which illegal immigrants are not turned over to federal authorities to face deportation.
“I’m raising the question to get the discussion going,” Coufal said after the meeting. “There needs to be a policy in place.”
“This could become a much bigger issue,” Slivinski said.
Wheeler said village officials are still “doing our homework” on the issue of Cazenovia police detaining and/or transferring custody of illegal immigrants to other law enforcement agencies, but the new policy for village police is to “leave it to the state or county if you can … we don’t want to get embroiled in this; your main focus is to keep our citizens safe.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.