When an Immigrant Gets Arrested in Suffolk County

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Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini speaks at a news conference in October of 2016 about a rash of gang killings in Brentwood, NY.

As part of his new immigration policy, President Donald Trump is calling on local law enforcement agencies to assist the federal government in identifying and detaining people living in the country illegally. That's stoked fear in immigrant communities across the region, including many in Long Island's Suffolk County.

But in parts of the county like Brentwood, where there's a large South American immigrant population, it's tricky. The police department, which is currently fighting to curb violence related to the Salvadoran gang MS-13, wants the cooperation of local residents—regardless of their immigration status. 

Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said that residents can call the cops—in over 200 languages—without revealing their identity or immigration status. 

"With regard to acting as deportation officers, that's a voluntary decision that has to be made by each local law enforcement agency," said Sini. "We believe doing so compromises our mission, because it creates an environment where folks might not feel comfortable reporting a crime, whether they're a victim or a witness."

But if the Suffolk County police arrest someone for even a misdemeanor and can't verify their legal status, they notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement. What happens next depends on what I.C.E. wants to do. "They'll come back with information rather quickly as to what their intentions are," Sini said. "Sometimes they'll send over an administrative warrant and ask us to hold that person. Other times, they'll make it clear that that person's not a priority, and we should follow the normal course." 

The NYPD, which operates in a so-called sanctuary city, does not inform I.C.E. of its arrests.

Sini spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake.