The Latino population on the East End, already leery of Trump administration rhetoric, faces a palpable new threat, warned Minerva Perez, the Executive Director of the Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island.
An apparent shift in policy by US Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials is putting undocumented immigrants in the crosshairs of agents even though their perceived crimes are relatively benign. Perez said several local arrests of productive members of our community have given rise to fears a wholesale purging may be underway.
ICE agents in the New York region made a sweep in response to increased threats from Latino gangs, some of which targeted immigration enforcement officials.
“The thing about the gangs is that there is not one Latino I know who says, ‘Let the gangs run wild.’ Most victims of gang violence are Latino,” Perez said in an interview. “It’s all connected. We are the victims.”
Perez said OLA has worked diligently, and with success, to keep an open dialogue with local law enforcement agencies. But ICE agents that operate independently short circuit the process of building trust and relationships with local police, she said.
ICE officials, until recently, focused on convicted and accused felons, gang members, and cases where a deported person reentered the country again.
During a six-day sweep beginning April 14, ICE agents arrested 225 individuals for violating US immigration laws. “Of those arrested, more than 180 were convicted criminals or had criminal charges pending, more than 80 had been issued a final order of removal and failed to depart the United States or had been previously removed from the United States and returned illegally,” according to a press release.
But Perez said not all those arrested fit the profile of dangerous criminals. The effect on the Latino community goes beyond fearing an early morning bust by ICE: Latinos who themselves are victimized are reluctant to report the crime, fearing their undocumented status will result in their own arrest.
“Local police need to say, ‘I don’t want to talk about your status when they show up at the house,’” Perez said. “You can’t separate the documented from the undocumented.”
Luis Marin-Castro, 31, has become the poster child for what’s wrong with the current ICE policy. An East Hampton local for 20 years and a well-known employee at Nick & Toni’s, Marin-Castro was charged with a misdemeanor count of Driving While Intoxicated in 2015.
Agents picked up Marin-Castro, he said, because they said he lacked citizenship status. He spent nearly two days in a New Jersey jail and then transferred to the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico. He is targeted for deportation.
“Luis did not do the right thing that day,” Perez said of his arrest. “But he was two months away from [being a legal citizen]. The last thing we want is more DWIs, but it is simply not true when they say they are targeting felons.”
Recently ICE put up a roadblock on Flanders Road where witnesses said they were stopping cars at random, targeting Latino drivers. An ICE spokesman denied it; Pérez said it was “absolutely true.”
Perez said a recurring problem locally is that those caught driving without a license tend to commit the crime again. “The cars are impounded, making it costly to get them back. If it happens three times, they are detained. But they are not ‘looking for the bad guys’ when they do this.”
Suffolk County has a recent agreement in place with the federal government to use part of the county jail in Riverhead to house immigrants facing deportation, records show.
As many as 150 federal detainees — immigrants as well as individuals held on criminal offenses — are housed in the facility, including men, women, and minors, according to the agreement. Many are being held on misdemeanor charges, Perez noted.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo blasted ICE at a recent press conference, noting the Marin-Castro case. “ICE’s hyper-aggressive raids on hardworking New Yorkers are immoral and un-New York, and we stand more determined than ever to support the rights of all immigrants in the Empire State through our nation-leading legal defense funds,” Cuomo said.
“Just as Lady Liberty holds her torch high in our harbor, New York will always stand for freedom and tolerance, and while the federal government tries to tear families apart and betray our core values, we will never back down from fighting for the most vulnerable among us,” the governor added.
ICE declined to comment on the record for this article. Thomas Decker, the field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations called the recent sweep, “a great success.”