The recent arrest of an undocumented person in Pelham is a reminder that national issues can arise at the local level.
Police are on the front lines when arrests are made; it’s difficult work, undertaken to keep our community safe, and we appreciate the efforts of our officers. But far too often Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is jeopardizing that safety, and making the already-difficult job of law enforcement harder.
In the last two years, there has been a 1700% increase in ICE arrests and attempted arrests across New York state, particularly in and around courts. Those targeted include witnesses, family members, and even victims themselves. They include people brought to the US as children, with no criminal record. They even include Americans—one New Yorker was held for three years, with deportation proceedings continuing for a subsequent year, despite being a citizen. Almost no one so arrested is released on bail. The arrestees have no right to an attorney.
A comprehensive study by the Immigrant Defense Project reports that ICE “using violent force to conduct arrests—slamming family members against walls, dragging individuals from cars, and even pulling guns on people leaving court—ha[s] become commonplace.” ICE agents usually operate in groups of three or four, with accounts of as many as ten agents involved in one arrest. They are frequently dressed in plain clothing, and will force subjects into unmarked cars. Bystanders to ICE arrests have called 911 to report that they were witnessing a kidnapping.
Further, “In the vast majority of operations, ICE agents refused to identify themselves, explain why an individual is being arrested, or offer proof that they have reason to believe the individual they’re arresting is deportable.” This is one of many examples of ICE violating its own agency regulations.
Increasingly, ICE agents assert expanded authority. According to material filed last week in an ACLU lawsuit, the agencies claim the right to search and confiscate the property of citizens within 100 miles of a national border--that’s all of us--for “general law enforcement” reasons not necessarily having anything to do with citizenship. Tens of thousands of people have been subject to these warrantless searches.
Police and court officers themselves have little power to challenge anyone claiming to be acting for ICE. An eight-months pregnant attorney recounted being physically assaulted by ICE.
Whatever an American’s belief about undocumented people, whether we are sympathetic to those who arrived fleeing for their lives, and who live here peacefully; or we want to see every undocumented person removed, surely reasonable people agree that our approach must follow the law, and respect the principles of our legal system. Having unidentified individuals snatching people or property without explanation or regard for normal legal protections, outside the purview of our police, not only fails that test but sets a frightening precedent.
Reasonable people must also agree that the litany of atrocities committed by our own government employees, against men, women and children taken into custody by ICE--including rape, death, and the unconscionable failure to track separated families--is wrong.
And surely we all agree that the safety of American citizens is a priority. Making our legal system so perilous that undocumented people—or even people who might simply be mistaken for being undocumented—don’t come forward threatens us all.
It’s because we support American values and safe communities, that we believe New York’s efforts to constrain ICE around our courts are emphatically necessary.
That’s also why we support restoring driver’s licenses for all in New York State, regardless of citizenship. Such licenses were routinely issued in New York until 2002. The benefits are clear: expanding driver’s license availability means more drivers who have passed a driving test, and are operating registered, inspected, and insured vehicles. That creates safer roads for all of us. It also gives law enforcement increased ability to identify drivers. As a secondary benefit, this measure would generate an estimated additional $83 million in state and county revenue through increased fees (along with a reduction in the cost of auto insurance for existing drivers).
Many states currently issue licenses regardless of citizenship. The measure enjoys broad support among New York politicians and police departments. Though many of us use our licenses for identification, the fact is that they do not prove or bestow citizenship--nor should they. The path to citizenship is much more complicated.
Our immigration system is broken. Fixing it will require hard choices and new solutions. We believe that requiring ICE to operate within reasonable constraints and offering more drivers a legal means of demonstrating competence on the road by making driver’s licenses available are two steps in the right direction. We invite our neighbors to join us in finding the way forward.
Please contact PelhamNYDemocrats@gmail.com for more information, or to get involved.
THE PELHAM DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEE
Julia Fuller Nakayama
Eileen Madden Osmolskis