ICE pushes back at charges agents use bullying tactics

March 3, 2020 Paula Katinas
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Pro-immigrant advocates lead City Hall rally

BOROUGHWIDE — The ongoing dispute between advocates for undocumented immigrants and officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that has played out across New York in recent months is showing no signs of letting up.

And a controversial incident that took place in Brooklyn is at the center of the current storm.

Pro-immigrant advocates are holding rallies and expressing outrage over what they charge are bullying tactics by ICE agents, while federal officials are countercharging that New York’s sanctuary city policy is forcing their hand.

Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (known as ICE) are rapidly getting a bad reputation in New York following a few isolated incidents such as the shooting of Mexican tourist Erick Diaz Cruz when he became entangled with officers trying to arrest his mother’s boyfriend, Gaspar Avendaño-Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record, in Gravesend last month.

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

Following a City Hall rally Friday organized by Councilmembers Carlos Menchaca of Sunset Park and Carlina Rivera of the East Village that drew pro-immigrant advocates protesting the Trump administration’s new policy of sending Customs and Border Patrol officers to sanctuary cities to help ICE agents, federal officials are seeking to clarify the roles their personnel will be playing on the ground.

Rachael Yong Yow, public affairs officer for ICE’s New York office, sent the Home Reporter a statement from Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence defending 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.

Advocates for immigrants are holding firm in their belief, however, that ICE goes too far and are pointing to the Diaz Cruz shooting as an example.

“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 its arrest of Avendaño-Hernandez and the shooting of Diaz Cruz.

Díaz Cruz, who was unarmed, was shot in the face by an ICE agent who was trying to take Avendaño-Hernandez into custody outside the West 12th Street home of Diaz Cruz’s mother on Feb. 6. At the time of the incident, Diaz 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, Yow said.

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

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 a rally by immigration 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, courthouse, and circled around schools,” said Whitney Hu, co-organizer of Sunset Park ICE Watch.

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 safe spaces, like courtrooms and hospitals. Such tactics compromise public safety by making it harder for the New York Police Department to build trust with immigrant communities, the lawmakers said.

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

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