U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested a Mexican national in Ithaca on Tuesday, an ICE spokesman and a Cornell student who said she witnessed the arrest told The Sun.
ICE officers “arrested one unlawfully present Mexican national today in Ithaca, following a routine targeted enforcement action,” Khaalid Walls, regional director of Northeast communications for ICE, said in an email. “The action, in which that specific individual was sought, occurred without incident.”
The arrested person is currently detained at Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, “pending removal proceedings,” Walls said.
A Cornell student who lives in Ithaca and spoke to The Sun on condition of anonymity said she witnessed ICE officers arrest a man on Cascadilla Street near the corner of Fourth Street on Tuesday afternoon between 1 and 2 p.m.
The student said an unmarked vehicle with three men, at least one in an ICE vest, pulled up to the curb on Cascadilla Street on Ithaca’s Northside, after which two men exited the car and asked the adult man for his name before placing him under arrest.
“Two guys stepped out and asked, ‘Is your name José?’ to which he replied ‘Yes,’ and ICE agents in vests nabbed him,” the student said.
There was no struggle and the man was compliant with the officers, according to the witness, who said she was walking to class at the time. The ICE spokesman could not immediately confirm the witness’ details.
Nearly 200 people on Tuesday night indicated that they planned to attend an “emergency rally” to protest the ICE operation in Ithaca after The Sun’s report on the arrest. The rally is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wednesday at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in downtown Ithaca.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said Ithaca is still committed to maintaining its sanctuary city status, which stems from Common Council’s unanimous vote on a resolution in February.
“We’re still a sanctuary and we’re still committed to it,” Myrick said in a brief phone call. “We get no pleasure from seeing ICE operate inside our community, but being a federal agency, we can’t stop them.”
Ithaca passed the sanctuary city resolution in February, prohibiting city employees, including Ithaca Police, from inquiring about a person’s immigration status except in situations in which the question is deemed necessary, such as providing benefits that are contingent upon citizenship or when citizenship status is vital to a criminal investigation.
The resolution also requires IPD to notify an individual before responding to requests from ICE or Customs and Border Patrol to detain or interview that person. An Ithaca Police spokesman said he was not immediately aware of Tuesday’s arrest by ICE.
No city officials have been in contact with ICE, Myrick said, adding that he did not have any additional information.
Prof. Stephen Yale-Loehr ’77 J.D. ’81, immigration law, said Ithaca’s sanctuary city legislation does not in any way prevent ICE from making arrests inside the city’s limits.
“Being a sanctuary city simply means that the city won’t provide information to the federal government about people they suspect are deportable,” Yale-Loehr told The Sun. “Immigration enforcement agents may learn about a person’s immigration status and location through other means, such as information in government databases. If so, they don’t need local officials to help them find and arrest the immigrant.”
Alderperson Ducson Nguyen, who represents the Second Ward where the arrest reportedly took place, said ICE’s presence in Ithaca “reaffirms the need for the actions the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County took in February to limit law enforcement and municipal employee interaction with that agency.”
“ICE isn’t welcome here, and I’d recommend they save their fuel and time driving all the way from Buffalo to harass our residents,” Nguyen added.
Yale-Loehr noted a recent Washington Post article showing that immigration arrests rose 32.6 percent in the first weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency when compared to the same period in 2016. Arrests of immigrants with no criminal records more than doubled during that period, according to statistics reported by The Post.
The student who said she witnessed the arrest said the man being arrested asked her to tell his boss what had happened before he was placed into the ICE vehicle.
“He turned over his shoulder and the last thing he said was, ‘Call my boss at Saigon Kitchen and tell them what happened,’” the student said.
A woman who answered the phone at the Vietnamese restaurant on West State Street said she was not aware of any arrest and that the eatery’s manager is out of town and would return on Wednesday.