Written by Maryann Sinclair Slutsky Friday, 18 March 2011 00:00
Some federal immigration agents were wearing cowboy hats and carrying semi-automatic weapons that night in September 2007 when they stormed into private homes across Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey had been told that the raids, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), were supposed to be targeting deportable gang members.
Instead, the commissioner discovered that poorly prepared federal agents were breaking into homes without reliable intelligence or arrest warrants. There were several instances where federal agents drew their guns on Nassau police officers.
“You have to have some reason to believe the target will be there when you enter a home,” Mulvey told The New York Times. “When you have 96 warrants and you only find six of them, it’s hard to make the argument that you had a good faith basis to enter those houses.”
Commissioner Mulvey learned his lessons. He withdrew his support of the raids, and strongly criticized the agency for its reckless actions.
When Mulvey leaves the force on April 1, he will be remembered for his principled stand regarding the raids, but that courage wasn’t a stand-alone act: It was an extension of his deeply held belief in community policing, and the need for law enforcement to earn and deserve the trust of those they protect. These values stood out especially on issues and policy related to immigration.
“It would be virtually impossible to solve crime effectively if victims and witnesses, no matter what their residency status, had some reluctance to come forward for fear of being deported,” Mulvey said at a 2009 forum.
“Many immigrants already fear the police, stemming often from the practices of the police in their countries of origin,” he said. “Therefore agencies must work very hard to gain their trust through policies and practices that are fair and respectful of cultural differences.”
Mulvey realized the importance of fostering trust in immigrant communities, and that developing trust requires respecting civil rights: Making sure that any immigrant could report a crime, or making sure cops understand the people they’re policing.
To accomplish that goal, Mulvey championed a policy of “respect and responsibility,” saying that police officers should respect all residents, regardless of immigration status, and that all residents should, in turn, follow the rules. Such principles helped the commissioner build bridges in a range of communities throughout the county.
As we honor Mulvey’s work on immigration in Nassau, we should also remember the importance of preserving the accomplishments made during his tenure. When the next commissioner takes office, he should look to Mulvey as an example on immigration policy, and keep Nassau communities safe for all residents.
Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the campaign director of Long Island Wins, a campaign promoting policy solutions to local immigration issues. Visit their website at www.LongIslandWins.com.