I’ve got to give the Bethlehem Town Board credit.
It stayed above the fray, didn’t cave to public sentiment or personal politics and opted to not openly declare the town a “sanctuary city” or, I guess, a “sanctuary town.”
I’m not entirely sure what a sanctuary city is. There are some who say it means extending benefits like housing and food stamps to people here illegally. Others say it means, regardless of the circumstances, those here illegally won’t be arrested and deported if they are in such a place.
Thing is, Bethlehem, or any town, doesn’t have the authority to grant subsidies. Few municipalities do, actually. Welfare, unemployment and food stamps are dolled out through the state and even where there are housing authorities – like the Albany Housing Authority – they are governed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
And it’s certainly not a local police officer’s job to run around and check green cards. If an illegal is arrested for something else, it’s up to the feds to handle the immigration end of it.
So, rather than make an inane political statement given the current climate, and near rabid hatred for Pres. Trump, the board opted to keep things status quo, a common sense approach for any municipality to take regarding immigration.
Basically, the board instructed the police to keep doing what they have been doing, or not doing, and not consider immigration status when dealing with a crime victim or a witness.
In other words, police will continue to investigate a crime the same if the victim’s last name is Smith or Gonzales. Stands to reason. The objective is, or should be, to catch the criminal, not use an unfortunate incident to deport someone.
The same applies to witnesses to a crime, or anyone else who wants to cooperate with law enforcement.
We need look no further than the 2014 quadruple murder in Guilderland. District Attorney David Soares, during a press conference a year later, said authorities are no closer to solving the case on that day than they were on Oct. 8 when Jin Chen, his wife Yan Li and their two sons who attended Guilderland Elementary School were viciously murdered in their Western Avenue home.
At the press conference, a frustrated Soares said the investigation has been thwarted by a language barrier and a pervasive distrust of law enforcement among the particular segment of the Chinese community involved.
Early on in the investigation, Soares publicly pledged immunity from deportation to anyone with information willing to come forward, but so far nobody has and it appears unlikely anyone will.
What’s more important, finding someone here washing dishes without a green card or someone evil enough to kill a family of five?
It’s impossible to say if those who might know something know of the olive branch Soares extended. Or if anyone who might find themselves in a similar – if hopefully less horrendous – circumstance even know about Bethlehem’s policy of not considering immigration when dealing with a victim of, or the witness to, a crime.
But, I guess, it’s better than having the illegals know they will get sent back if they even ask a police officer for directions to Stewart’s.
Obviously, the entire scenario exemplifies why it is better for everyone if people are made to follow the proper channels before coming here. I’m willing to bet a person without the fear of deportation hanging over his or her head is more willing to cooperate with authorities and, if needed, qualify for the benefits mentioned above just as any other naturalized citizen.
Immigration just isn’t something local police departments and town boards should have to deal with.
It’s a national issue, and politicians of both parties have been trying to get a handle on for decades. How Trump went about his so-called immigration ban makes the proverbial bull in a china shop look like a ballerina, but maybe because of it – with the courts having a final say in how it all shakes out – we will get an immigration policy fair to all involved, including those who followed the law and came here through the proper channels.
Jim Franco can be reached at 878-1000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.