The United States on Wednesday charged the Mexican citizen arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Ithaca last week with allegedly violating federal law by possessing a forged registration card, which could mean up to 10 years in prison for the 32-year-old if he is convicted.
The government accused José Guzman-Lopez, whose name was previously reported as José L. Guzman, of “knowingly possessing an alien registration card knowing it to be forged, counterfeited, altered, or falsely made,” according to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
ICE’s arrest of Guzman-Lopez on May 2 in Ithaca, which has declared itself a sanctuary city, brought sharp condemnations last week from local residents and officials. Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, at a rally after the arrest, said the detention was “about exploiting those who are already afraid” and that “ICE is targeting sanctuary cities.”
Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman, said last week that Guzman-Lopez is a Mexican citizen and had been arrested for “illegal entry.” The 32-year-old, who friends said has lived in Ithaca for years, has been held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia.
The criminal complaint filed Wednesday brought new details of the ICE operation to light, showing that officers with the Enforcement and Removal Operations division of ICE “conducted surveillance” of a residence on Cascadilla Street on the morning of the arrest, according to a sworn affidavit by Joseph Radley, a deportation officer.
When officers “observed Guzman exiting his residence and walking along Cascadilla Street, towards Fourth Street” around 11 a.m., they placed him under arrest for allegedly violating the Immigration and Nationality Act, Radley said.
Much of the affidavit confirms what a Cornell student who previously spoke to The Sun on the condition of anonymity said she witnessed on May 2, when Guzman-Lopez was arrested. The student, who is an Ithaca resident, said she saw ICE officers exit an unmarked vehicle before arresting Guzman-Lopez.
“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 hours after the arrest.
During the arrest, officers found “a counterfeit alien registration card” in Guzman-Lopez’s wallet, according to the complaint and a joint statement from Richard Hartunian, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York, and Thomas Brophy, the acting field office director for ICE in Buffalo.
The registration card bore an A-number — a unique number assigned by the Department of Homeland Security to people who immigrate to the U.S., allowing them to legally obtain employment — that was valid, but that government records showed had not been assigned to Guzman-Lopez, Radley said in the affidavit.
If convicted of violating the federal law prohibiting forging documents, Guzman-Lopez faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Guzman-Lopez may also face deportation proceedings, which would likely take place after the criminal case concludes, a spokesman for the attorney’s office, Richard Southwick, told The Sun. Assistant U.S. Attorney Miroslav Lovric is prosecuting the criminal case, according to the statement.
Guzman-Lopez made his initial appearance in the federal criminal case before a U.S. magistrate judge in Syracuse, who ordered that he be detained in U.S. Marshal’s Service custody, authorities said. He was previously held at a detention facility in Batavia, and it was not immediately clear on Wednesday evening if he was still at that facility.
The attorney who represented Guzman-Lopez in 2013 when Ithaca Police accused him of stabbing a man in Ithaca told The Sun on Wednesday that he has still not been able to speak to his client directly.
The Ithaca assault charge is still pending in Tompkins County Court, which Lance Salisbury, the supervising attorney for Tompkins County’s Assigned Counsel Office previously said could signal a lack of evidence, among other things.
A Tompkins County prosecutor offered Guzman-Lopez a plea deal last week, The Sun previously reported, but Jeffrey Walker, Guzman-Lopez’s attorney, has not been able to relay the terms of that deal to his client.
Walker said on Wednesday that people in touch with Guzman-Lopez had passed along the attorney’s number and that he was mailing the terms of the deal to the facility in Batavia.
“I can only hope that, perhaps, by bringing finality to the open charge here in Ithaca, Jose may be able to return [to] the community sooner as opposed to later,” Walker told The Sun in an email last week, before the federal criminal charge was filed.
The City of Ithaca’s Common Council and the Tompkins County Legislature passed sanctuary legislation restricting local officials and law enforcement agencies from cooperating with ICE in most cases and prohibiting them from asking about a person’s immigration status except in situations deemed necessary.
Wednesday’s charge by the government also comes one day after a false report of a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer at Cornell spread fear and concern across campus, showcasing faculty, student and staff concern for undocumented students after last week’s arrest.