This summer, the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office marked an anniversary: five years since the start of a controversial collaboration between the department and the federal agency in charge of apprehending and detaining undocumented individuals accused of criminal activity.

Since signing an agreement in 2018, Rensselaer County has been the only county in New York to participate in the “287(g)” program — which refers to the section of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 that authorizes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to delegate the authority for immigration officer functions to state and local law enforcement officers.

The authorization has long been vilified by immigration advocates, but staunchly defended by county Sheriff Pat Russo and other local GOP officials. Russo, in pushing back against public outcry in the first few years of the partnership, has repeatedly invoked public safety concerns and said that the program only delivers noncitizens into ICE custody after they have been detained by local law enforcement on other criminal charges.

At one point the center of a political maelstrom during the administration of former President Donald J. Trump, who had campaigned on stricter immigration and border policies, vocal opposition to the program appears to have dropped off in recent years.

But since last spring, waves of migrants crossing the southern border, including tens of thousands seeking asylum and employment in New York, have made their way into upstate communities, including the Capital Region.


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