ICE pushes back against charges agents use bullying tactics

March 3, 2020 Paula Katinas
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The ongoing dispute between ICE officials and advocates for undocumented immigrants that has played out across New York in recent months is showing no signs of letting up, and an incident that took place in Brooklyn is at the center of the current storm.

Pro-immigrant advocates have held rallies and expressed outrage over tactics they charge amount to bullying by ICE agents, like impersonating police and intimidating people in courtrooms and hospitals. Federal officials counter charge that New York’s sanctuary city policy is forcing their hand.

ICE agents are increasingly facing backlash in New York following last month’s shooting of Mexican tourist Erick Díaz Cruz by officers trying to arrest his mother’s boyfriend, Gaspar Avendaño-Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record. Díaz Cruz was shot in Gravesend after trying to intervene in Avendaño-Hernandez’s arrest.

But ICE officials, as well as officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are pushing back against the criticism.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

A rally at City Hall on Friday, organized by City Councilmembers Carlos Menchaca of Sunset Park and Carlina Rivera of the East Village, drew pro-immigrant advocates who protested the Trump Administration’s new policy of sending Customs and Border Patrol officers to sanctuary cities to help ICE agents. 

In a statement provided to the Eagle, acting ICE Director Matthew T. Albence defended the decision to bring in CBP agents. 

“ICE is utilizing CBP to supplement enforcement activity in response to the resource challenges stemming from sanctuary city policies. As we have noted for years, in jurisdictions where we are not allowed to assume custody of aliens from jails, our officers are forced to make at-large arrests of criminal aliens who have been released into communities. This effort requires a significant amount of additional time and resources. When sanctuary cities release these criminals back to the street, it increases the occurrence of preventable crimes, and more importantly, preventable victims,” Albence said.

Immigrant advocates are holding firm in their belief, however, that ICE goes too far and are pointing to the Díaz Cruz shooting as an example.

Carmen Cruz, center, speaks at a news conference to denounce the shooting of her son, Erick Díaz Cruz, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

“ICE’s shooting of an unarmed Brooklyn tourist laid bare the unnecessary and tragic human consequences of this reckless and dangerous agency,” said Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. 

Menchaca and Rivera held an emergency hearing on Friday to investigate ICE’s elevated presence in New York City following the shooting of Díaz Cruz.

Díaz Cruz, who was unarmed, was shot in the face by an ICE agent trying to take Avendaño-Hernandez into custody outside the West 12th Street home of Díaz Cruz’s mother on Feb. 6. At the time of the incident, Díaz Cruz was visiting his mother and was in the U.S. on a tourist visa. He survived the shooting and is recovering.

Avendaño-Hernandez, who was convicted of assault in 2011, had twice been removed from the U.S. by ICE in the past, according to agency officials.

“The New York Police Department arrested Avendaño-Hernandez Feb. 3 for possession of a forged instrument, a felony criminal charge. ICE attempted to lodge an immigration detainer after his most recent arrest. However, the subject was released from local custody before ICE could lodge a detainer. This forced ICE officers to locate him on the streets of New York rather than in the safe confines of a jail,” ICE officials said in a statement.

The incident is under investigation by the office of the inspector general at the Dept. of Homeland Security, said Rachael Yong Yow, public affairs officer for ICE’s New York office.

“I would like to remind you that two officers were also hospitalized during that incident,” Yow told the Eagle.

Menchaca, who chairs the council’s Immigration Committee, said that things have gone too far.

“Border patrol agents are fatally shooting immigrants from American soil with impunity. They drive through towns, arrest and intimidate people at will. Meanwhile, back here, ICE is shooting unarmed tourists in the face and getting away with it. Now border patrol units are coming to New York City to join them. We cannot allow this authoritarianism to grow,” Menchaca said.

“The increased level of ICE activity in our city is intolerable, unacceptable and cruel, and I am particularly concerned about the health impacts of this increased presence on our city’s immigrant population,” Rivera said.

Prior to the hearing, Menchaca and Rivera were joined at the rally by immigrant advocates, including members of Sunset Park ICE watch.

“As a rapid response group against ICE, we’ve seen on the ground how ICE has changed their tactics to move more aggressively throughout our immigrant communities. They’ve entered workplaces, courthouses and circled around schools,” said Whitney Hu, the group’s co-organizer.

Menchaca and Rivera said the council has been made aware of incidents in which ICE officers have impersonated local police, physically intimidated people and made their presence felt in places like courtrooms and hospitals. Such tactics compromise public safety by making it harder for the NYPD to build trust with immigrant communities, the lawmakers said.

Yow said she would not respond to such “rhetoric” from politicians. 

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