Ithaca officials expressed their frustration directly to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a phone call on Wednesday, a day after the agency arrested a 32-year-old Mexican citizen who lived in the city.
Hundreds of residents, Cornell students and local representatives converged on the Ithaca Commons on Wednesday as well for a hastily-organized protest against the enforcement agency’s arrest of José L. Guzman, who an ICE spokesman said is an “unlawfully present Mexican national.”
Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said Ari Lavine, the city attorney, spoke directly with an ICE field director and “made it clear that we were unhappy that [ICE was] operating inside of Ithaca and that they were operating without coordinating with the local law enforcement.”
Lavine said he told the ICE field director Ithaca is “thoroughly displeased by the actions that occurred here yesterday.” He said the official seemed receptive to the idea of giving the city advance notice in the future, but that the official did not make any solid commitment to do so.
Myrick and Lavine said that if ICE tells Ithaca Police it plans to arrest someone not in IPD’s custody, local law enforcement would not obstruct or aid the agency in its operation.
The ICE field director, in his conversation with city officials, “invoked the new executive orders” signed by President Donald Trump that give more power to immigration agencies to deport unauthorized immigrants as justification for the Tuesday afternoon arrest in northside Ithaca, Lavine said.
Three ICE officers pulled up in an unmarked vehicle next to Guzman near the corner of Cascadilla and Fourth streets on Tuesday afternoon and asked him for his name before putting him under arrest and driving away, according to a witness who spoke to The Sun on the condition of anonymity.
“Two guys stepped out and asked, ‘Is your name José?’ to which he replied ‘Yes,’ and ICE agents in vests nabbed him,” the witness, a Cornell student and Ithaca resident, told The Sun.
The arrest mobilized Ithacans on Wednesday, more than 300 of whom gathered at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in downtown Ithaca to signal their anger at the detention of an Ithacan who several friends said always took time to help others.
Fabina Colon, the director of Ithaca’s Multicultural Resource Center created a Facebook event for the protest with Carolina Osorio Gil, director of ¡Cultura! Ithaca, within hours of The Sun reporting the arrest.
Colon, speaking shortly before 5 p.m., said Tuesday was not the first time in her 23 years living in Tompkins County that she has seen or heard of someone being deported.
“It has been happening — it’s not just recently,” she said. “As much as we want to call our community progressive and liberal, that’s not what people of color or immigrants or people who have been systematically oppressed have been experiencing here.”
A man who identified himself as Pete said he has known Guzman for years and that he “has a light about him,” which has now been taken from the city.
“Yesterday, three men in an unmarked car pulled up and picked up my friend off the street and he is no longer in our community,” Pete said. “That is not okay.”
“This man, this friend, worked hard,” he said, recalling that the two often had to reschedule martial arts practice because Guzman was working long hours.
Myrick said he was particularly disturbed that the ICE officers had reportedly used an unmarked car and did not inform the Ithaca Police Department before the operation took place, which he said could have led local officers to believe someone was being kidnapped.
“If you’re local law enforcement like IPD and you saw that happening … you could get into a very dangerous and unnecessary confrontation between local law enforcement and federal law enforcement simply because ICE didn’t let us know that they had a pending arrest happening,” Myrick said.
“This is not about safety, this is about fear,” the mayor said of the arrest in remarks at the rally, adding that he believes ICE is targeting sanctuary cities. “This is about exploiting those who are already afraid, but I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid because of what I see here.”
Guzman is currently being held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia. Both Guzman’s boss at Saigon Kitchen and an attorney who represented him in 2013 said they had not heard from him as of Wednesday evening.
“I have not been able to speak to him despite multiple attempts,” the attorney, Jeffrey D. Walker, said in an email. “I will not yet speculate on the reasons for this.”
Walker confirmed that he represented Guzman in November of 2013, when IPD arrested Guzman and accused him of stabbing a man in the stomach, an injury that sent the man to a trauma center.
Guzman was never indicted on those charges, which are still pending. Prof. Lance Salisbury, law, the supervising attorney for Tompkins County’s Assigned Counsel Office, said it is unlikely that prosecutors would choose to not indict on a violent felony charge and the pending case could signal a lack of evidence.
District Attorney Matthew Van Houten, who assumed office in December, confirmed that Guzman had not been indicted on the assault charge and said his office had not been in contact with ICE before or after Tuesday’s arrest.
“We didn’t hear anything from ICE,” he said. “We had no interaction with them whatsoever.”
Jamie Williamson, public information officer for IPD, said there was “zero percent involvement” from Ithaca Police in the ICE arrest.
SUNY Cortland Prof. Ute Ritz-Deutch, history, said Guzman should have access to a lawyer and that the size of the protests in Ithaca would put more pressure on the detention center to make sure he was able to contact an attorney.
Ritz-Deutch said the average stay in detention facilities is about 30 days, but added that many people are deported as quickly as three days after their arrest, while many others in detention facilities for years appealing their pending deportation.
“If this person was accused of being involved in a violent crime, from the perspective of Trump, it does not matter if that person has been convicted,” she told The Sun, referencing the president’s executive order.
“Anybody is a target,” and enforcement agencies are “going after people who in the past they didn’t bother going after,” she said.
Both Ithaca’s Common Council and the Tompkins County Legislature passed sanctuary legislation restricting when local officials or law enforcement agencies can cooperate with ICE and prohibiting them from asking about a person’s immigration status except in situations deemed necessary.
Myrick and Anna Kelles, who represents the City of Ithaca on the Tompkins County Legislature, said sanctuary legislation is an important part of resisting deportation of Ithaca residents, even while both acknowledged that localities cannot keep ICE from carrying out raids or arresting people in the county.
Agencies like ICE, Ritz-Deutch said, “are grabbing as many people as they can as fast as they can” since Trump took office.
Colon said this will not be the last time ICE comes to Ithaca and that residents, who she said have been invigorated since Election Day, need to continue to take tangible action.
“Several more people are going to be detained in the future and we have to do something together as a community not just so that it’s lessened, but so that it stops,” she added. “This is an opportunity to take things to a bigger scale and look at things at a systemic level.”
Osorio Gil, the co-organizer, said Guzman’s friends are worried about him and that people should remember he “is a human with human rights,” and that “humans are not illegal.”
Prof. Ella Maria Diaz, English and Latina/o studies, responded to people who she said immediately justify a deportation by pointing to a crime the person has allegedly committed.
“We can’t get stuck in these binaries of good or bad,” she said. “We cannot define people by one moment in time.”
Prof. Russell Rickford, history, likened the ICE officers to “slave-catchers” and said he was shaken by Guzman’s arrest.
“They’ve gotten my brother, brother José,” he said. “A so-so soccer player, but a good brother, with a beautiful smile.”
“This abduction, this kidnapping, is simply an expression of how obscene our society has become,” he continued. “Snatching people off our streets does not make us safe. Shattering families does not make us safe. Destroying lives does not make us safe. What it does is create a climate of fear.”
Ritz-Deutch, referencing the 1960s civil rights movement, said that even though ICE has the authority to arrest, detain and deport people in Ithaca, that alone does not mean residents should not protest the actions.
“Unjust laws should be resisted,” she said. “It’s necessary to have a community response.”