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Hernandez case shows holes in Sanctuary City policy


The detainment of Abigail Hernandez by Immigration and Customs Enforcement has exposed holes in Rochester's Sanctuary City policy, immigrant rights activists say. Hernandez, 21, was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat against East High School after she allegedly posted threatening language on the school's Facebook page on February 15.

Hernandez came to the US from Mexico with her parents when she was 3, and qualified for protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She was arraigned in City Court and was set to be released on bail, but then ICE took her into custody. She now faces deportation.

The handling of Hernandez's case "exposes serious weaknesses in the Sanctuary resolution," said Metro Justice, ROCitizen, and Rochester Democratic Socialists of America in a joint statement. Rochester updated its Sanctuary City status in February 2017, outlining that city personnel, including police, will not inquire about people's immigration status.

Rochester Police Deputy Chief LaRon Singletary says RPD did not notify ICE or inquire about Hernandez's immigration status. But when people are arrested and booked in New York State, their information, including fingerprints, is entered into a statewide database called eJustice. ICE -- and other law enforcement agencies -- has access to that database and can issue a detainer for people it believes can be subject to removal from the US, as was the case with Hernandez.

A database like eJustice is useful in policing, but it creates a challenge for cities trying to extend protections to undocumented immigrants. "This is sort of the issue with Sanctuary-type terminology," says Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. "There isn't a bubble where ICE can't come in. It's not a fortress."