What goes around comes around.
When it does in this context, you have to wonder: Is a jurisdiction – 560 in 2018 – declaring itself a “sanctuary city” or town, county, village, etc., about anything such a good idea?
Now, a Facebook drive is underway to make Otsego a “sanctuary county” – the idea is local authorities would simply not enforce New York State’s SAFE Act and its gun-control provisions. The effort was launched by Oneonta sportsman Kaleb White and is championed by newly elected county Rep. Rick Brockway, R-Laurens.
The initiative, of course, brings to mind the national sanctuary city movement to resist
immigration laws, and the Village of Cooperstown dipping a toe in those waters in April 2017.
The village policy, passed unanimously by the Village Board, said its police department would not “participate in the Delegation of Immigration Authority provided through Section 287(g) of the Immigration & Nationality Act (1996).”
And it would be “general practice … not to inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses or others who call or approach village staff seeking assistance.”
At the time, then-Mayor Jeff Katz denied the policy in any way put the Village into the sanctuary-community fold. At base, however, it adhered to a central tenet of the sanctuary: Community leaders declaring an intent to not enforce laws they disagree with.
It’s a slippery slope.
Fast-forward to the weeks since the Nov. 5, 2019, election, when Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, buoyed by his party winning control of both houses of that state’s legislature, declared he would reintroduce a package of “common sense” gun legislation that had been held up by Republican majorities.
Within weeks, all but six of Virginia’s 95 counties declared themselves “sanctuaries” against any forthcoming “unconstitutional” gun legislation, with towns and cities driving the total over 100.
The state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, has stated the sanctuaries have “no legal effect.” Seriously, though, what’s the Commonwealth of Virginia to do? Invade 89 counties to seize bump stocks, (at the point of a gun, no doubt)?
There’s a flip side to this, evident here in New York State’s “Green Light” Law, opposed by 62 percent of the electorate. It was passed anyway.
Sure, there’s room for profiles in courage, but each time a legislative body passes a law in the face of widespread opposition, it erodes its authority and credibility. It drains its reservoir of good will.
At the extreme, of course, were Parliament’s Townshend Acts, including a tax on tea, which led to the Sons of Liberty’s Boston Tea Party on Dec. 16, 1773, triggering Lexington and Concord the next spring and the American Revolution.
In Otsego County’s case, all our assemblymen and single senator are Republicans, and the Democrats, mostly from the New York City metropolitan area, control state government. Are thus unfunded mandates this taxation – certainly, governance – without representation?
Another example: When the state Legislature raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 last summer – another controversial move – it pledged to cover any associated costs. County Attorney Ellen Coccoma told the Otsego County board at its December meeting, the state – now facing a $6 billion budget – has now decided the counties must pick up those costs.
If this keeps up, will Upstate counties at some point declare themselves “sanctuaries” against all state mandates?
This is just spit balling, of course, so let’s back up.
New York’s SAFE Act is one of the most stringent pieces of gun-control legislation in the nation, so you can understand that people who own guns or hunt will object to it.
But while the impetus to declare “sanctuary counties” where the SAFE Act would not be enforced may be understandable – here, and in Delaware and Wyoming counties so far – it is unwise in that it erodes respect for law and order. The Otsego County board will probably reject the idea, and should.
Wisely, under Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch’s administration in Cooperstown, the link to the Village Board’s April 2017 policy has been removed; actually, you can’t seem to find it on the website at all.
Asked about it, Mayor Tillapaugh offered to dig it out of her PC and send it along.
This is an evolution in the right direction. It would be better, if they wished, for trustees to pass a resolution decrying particular immigration policies, perhaps for no other reason – Tillapaugh explained – than the village’s reduced police department simply lacks the person-power to collaborate in ICE investigations.
But for any public body – the Otsego County board, the Cooperstown Village Board, or whatever – to simply declare it won’t obey the law is ill-considered at least and, at worst, criminal.