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Nassau Cops “Opt Out” in Homeland Security Immigration Raids

October 3, 2007

Mineola, NY – Nassau County police have halted cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials over a series of raids that were billed as an anti-gang operation, but which police say turned out to be an anti-immigrant sweep. Nassau's County Executive and Police Commissioner has demanded a federal investigation.

Detective Lieutenant Kevin Smith of the Nassau County Police says they believed the warrants were for gang members.

"We were under the impression that many of these administrative warrants were directed against gang members here in Nassau County. Well, they ended up arresting 40 people, but only six turned out to be gang members. The Commissioner was not pleased with the number of agents and how they were armed and displayed themselves here in our county."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's operation was code-named "Community Shield," but Smith says the out-of-state agents dressed and acted like cowboys, and even drew weapons on Nassau police. He worries that the operation has damaged the Nassau Police Department's immigrant relations.

"We've had people come from other countries, some of them being legal, some undocumented. We've had issues with certain communities and their lack of trust in law enforcement. Well, we've built a lot of bridges to restore trust, and when an operation like this comes along, it can set us back years."

Lois Schwaeber with the Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence says gang activity has a negative impact on the women and girls served by her agency, but that law enforcement must still adhere to legal requirements and human rights standards.

"When those rights are missing for the most vulnerable part of the community, it also can have a very detrimental effect on other populations because, if you can't protect our most vulnerable people, how can we protect anybody else?"

Federal officials involved in the raids were unavailable for comment.

Robert Knight/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NY