Nassau County Executive Laura Curran rescinded her decision to have officials from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency who are stationed at the Nassau County Correctional Center moved to the Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. They will remain housed in a trailer at the county jail, Curran said, “until we get this right for everyone.”
The announcement came amid a back-and-forth among Curran, lawmakers, union representatives and advocacy groups over where to put six ICE agents who have been posted at the East Meadow jail for 20 years.
On Jan. 15, Curran asked ICE to vacate the premises by Jan. 31, citing a decision by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in November that it was illegal for local police to hold inmates longer than their sentences based on civil immigration detainers.
Curran said that removing ICE from the premises would strengthen the county’s community policing model and “eliminate confusion in the immigrant community and demonstrate that inmates are there for crimes.”
She announced that ICE could relocate to NUMC on Jan. 22, but faced backlash from activists. “It’s disgusting. ICE will be where immigrants receive medical help,” said Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center. “Immigrants will be afraid to go to the ‘ICE hospital.’ It’s a betrayal to the immigrant community.”
Defending her decision, Curran explained that there had been no deportations made in the history of NUMC. “I was confident the temporary field office’s location was separate and apart from patients and visitors,” she said. “However, I want to ensure that our immigrant community knows they can use NUMC without any worries.”
After speaking with ICE officials, Curran agreed on Jan. 28 to let them stay at the jail as long as they look for a new location away from the visitor’s center, where they are currently housed, she said.
County Legislator John Ferretti, a Republican whose district includes the jail, and Legislator Thomas McKevitt, a Republican who represents the neighboring area, joined local residents and union leaders outside the correctional center on Jan. 30 for a news conference at which they criticized Curran for wanting to remove ICE from the jail’s premises.
Ferretti said he was relieved that Curran decided against “evicting” ICE for the time being, but said, “I am concerned that she may flip-flop again, thereby endangering local residents.”
McKevitt agreed with Ferretti, and said that residents who live near the jail should have been able to meet with Curran and voice their concerns on the matter before she made any decisions. “The least that the county executive could have done would have been to give homeowners the consideration of sharing her plan and listening to residents prior to undertaking a series of drastic decisions and reversals on this serious issue,” McKevitt said.
Curran called the news conference “pathetic political opportunism with no basis in reality.” “Exploiting divisive rhetoric to spread fear about gang members being released into our streets isn’t just irresponsible,” she said, “it’s an outrageous lie.”
Eliana Fernandez, lead organizer for the advocacy group Make the Road New York, backed Curran’s goal to remove ICE officials from the correctional center and said that having them there “sends the message to Nassau residents that the county is in the business of aiding and abetting deportations that tear apart families — which is precisely the wrong message at a time when there is already heightened fear in immigrant communities.”
Several residents spoke out on the issue at a Jan. 28 meeting of the county’s Public Safety Committee. “We must recognize the fact that since the gang numbers went up, the jail has become more dangerous,” said Helen Meittinis, president of the Community Association of Stewart Avenue.
“What’s wrong with an extra layer of security when you need the security in today’s day and age?” one resident asked. Another, who has lived in the community since 1976, said that he has felt more comfortable with ICE on the premises, because there have been “no immediate threats to students at the high school or immediate area.”
Brian Sullivan, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, said that he doubted ICE’s presence at the jail was ever an issue for the immigrant community. “They are not even visible on the visiting area on the jail property,” he said.
With the final decision on ICE’s location still pending, the Republican lawmakers called on Curran to meet with residents before any action is taken. Curran said that she was willing to consider this, but did not provide further information.