Jack Hayes, the Republican nominee for Ulster County Executive, attacked Democratic nominee Pat Ryan for his stance on immigration during a debate hosted Tuesday by The Daily Freeman.
Hayes, the chair of the county’s Conservative Party and a former county legislator, said he would rescind Pat Ryan’s executive order barring county employees from sharing information with immigration authorities his “first day.”
Ryan defeated Hayes in a special election for the position in April after Ulster County Executive Mike Hein left to serve with the Cuomo administration. Ryan signed the executive order during his six months in office, but the businessman and former congressional candidate must run again in November’s general election to serve a full term.
Prior to the contentious exchange, the candidates had been agreeable, both promising to keep taxes low and agreeing municipalities and the county needed to work more closely to address issues such as short-term rentals.
However, when moderator Patricia Doxsey inquired about the candidates’ stances on the District Attorney charging an alleged fentanyl dealer with criminally negligent homicide after an alleged customer overdosed on the drug, and how they saw the county’s role in fighting the opioid epidemic in general, Hayes immediately turned the conversation to immigration.
“I believe that we need to work closely with the federal government, because the heroin is coming through the southern border, and the situation of not cooperating with immigration, I think, creates a…grave problem of safety and contributes to the heroin distribution network,” he said.
Hayes then brought up the 9/11 terrorist attacks, saying poor communication between local and federal authorities led to the attacks’ success.
Ryan turned the conversation back to the question at hand, saying he agreed with the District Attorney’s prosecution, as well as repping the $3 million in state and federal funding the county received to fight the epidemic during his tenure. He only addressed the southern border argument in passing, saying much of the fentanyl in the country originates in China.
About 85 percent of wholesale heroin shipments seized by the DEA originate in Mexico, according to the agency’s latest figures, and much of the rest is transported by Mexican drug gangs through the country from points south.
The same DEA report, which takes data from 2016, states it cannot determine if China or Mexico is the larger supplier of fentanyl, noting Mexican shipments are bigger, but Chinese shipments are far purer.
Fentanyl now kills more people in the U.S. than heroin, especially in states east of the Mississippi, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Hayes said he would rescind Ryan’s executive order about aiding immigration enforcement – the”sanctuary county” law – his “first day” in office.
Ryan framed his executive order as making county services available to anyone without those seeking them having to fear deportation.
“I want to make it clear that anyone who needs help can come forward and feel safe coming forward and asking for help – I think that’s a critical way we should approach our jobs as public servants,” he said.
The executive order signed in June bars county employees from asking about immigration status unless it is necessary to determine eligibility for a program or is required by law; bars employees from disclosing information to federal immigration authorities engaged in civil immigration enforcement unless required by law; and bars employees from giving immigration authorities access to defendants in police custody unless there is a signed judicial warrant.
It was not the county’s position to make immigration policy, nor was it the county executive’s position to legislate, Hayes responded, and the county would not be able to handle the “gross criminal activity” of opioid sales on their own.
Ryan countered he was not trying to legislate immigration policy.
“I don’t think you understand the way the order was written, but that’s OK,” he said, laughing.
The order was meant to allow people to access county services and “not have the fear of being, frankly, ripped away from their families and out of our country,” Ryan said.
Ryan then disagreed with Hayes’ assertion the immigrants were doing something illegal.
“Their being here is illegal – that’s doing something illegal,” Hayes responded.
If elected, Hayes would “set up a situation that pulled people in and tried to find legal status for them so that they can become citizens, if that’s what they want,” he said.
Jack Hayes, the long-time Conservative Party leader in the county, has also served as Gardiner Town Supervisor. He was in the Navy before serving for three decades in the state police.
Pat Ryan, an Ulster County native, did two tours of duty in Iraq before leading companies specializing in data analysis. He placed second in a heat of seven during the 2018 Democratic Congressional Primary.
Afterword: The Southern Border Question
I want to address the big question on everyone’s mind after reading this article: where do I stand on the moderator’s question about southern border security?