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Grant request for police officer sparks immigration debate in Hamburg

Hamburg, apparently, has no plans to become a sanctuary community, but the nation's immigration debate came to the town this week when the Town Board took up a routine application for a federal grant that would help pay for a new police officer.

Included in the application was a clause requiring the town to adhere to the federal statute widely seen as prohibiting sanctuary communities. The statute prohibits state and local governments from enacting policies that limit communication with federal officials about the immigration status of individuals.

Supervisor Steven Walters said the town has always enforced immigration laws as they are written by the federal code.

"It won't create any difference in our police department," he said. "The federal government now requires it as part of grant applications, I'm sure in response to several cities and several communities declaring themselves sanctuary cities."

Councilman Michael Quinn questioned why the clause has been put in at this time.

"I'm not saying I'm one that goes against the law of the land or anything, but to put in these extra duties for our police department seems out of the ordinary," Quinn said.

Councilman Tom Best Jr., a retired Hamburg police detective, said police won't do anything differently.

"It's no extra duties for our police department," he said. "In other words, they get an illegal, they detain them, they call Immigration, and Immigration takes them."

Local police weigh bigger role in immigration crackdown

Police Chief Gregory Wickett also said the requirement will not change officers' jobs.

"We're not going out and hunting immigrants, are we?" Quinn asked, and Wickett said no.

"It's simply our police department continuing to do the job they have for the last umpteen years, since we formed a police department," Walters said.

But Quinn was not convinced.

"A lot of times it's these little codes that are thrown into these incentives that start the slippery slope of change from what we have now, what we call community policing, to someday being considered our own Gestapo. It may be a reach, but it's still a concern," he said.

"I don't think it will affect our day to day," the police chief said.

The application for the grant, which would pay $125,000 toward the salary and benefits for a police officer, passed, 2-1. Quinn voted against it.

Town officials are not optimistic they will win the competitive grant.

"We've been rejected in the past," Best said.

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