U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents descended on Ithaca, a sanctuary city, on Tuesday and arrested an “unlawfully present foreign national” as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, the third man arrested by ICE in downtown Ithaca in two weeks.
Agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigation unit arrested the man, who has not been identified, around noon on Tuesday, according to ICE spokesperson Khaalid Walls and a local immigrant rights group.
The arrest came exactly two weeks after two Thai citizens were arrested by ICE in downtown Ithaca and less than a year after ICE arrested a Mexican citizen residing in Ithaca in a move that brought hundreds of people to the Ithaca Commons to protest the federal action.
The Rapid Response Network, a group formed by the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition to aid people detained by ICE or Customs and Border Patrol agents, responded to downtown Ithaca shortly after Tuesday’s arrest, Ithaca College Prof. Patricia Rodriguez, a member of the coalition’s steering committee, told The Sun.
“The ICE arrests of immigrants working in Ithaca are part of the Trump administration’s strategy to divide our communities between those who ‘deserve’ human rights and those who do not,” the coalition said in a statement sent by retired Ithaca College Prof. Beth Harris late on Wednesday.
“The Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition calls on our community to deepen our support to those living and working with us, whether or not they have been granted official documentation,” the statement continued.
Walls said the man is in ICE custody and that the probe by Homeland Security Investigation agents is ongoing. Rodriguez declined to identify the man or the exact location of the arrest, citing the request of witnesses at the scene, but confirmed that the special agents were seen on the Commons on Tuesday.
On Jan. 9, during a five-day sweep of Western New York, ICE arrested two Thai nationals — Somkiat Wandee and Patithan Maiyodklang — in Ithaca. The Ithaca Voice quoted Carlos Gutierrez, a health and safety trainer at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, as saying the two men were working at Taste of Thai at the time of the arrest and that one of the men had missed an appointment with immigration officials.
Both Wandee and Maiyodklang were being held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia as of Wednesday night. The nearest Homeland Security Investigation field office is in Williamsville, near Buffalo.
A hostess at Taste of Thai on Tuesday evening told The Sun that the restaurant’s owner was currently in Thailand and that she was not authorized to discuss the arrests. She declined to say if the man arrested on Tuesday was an employee.
The Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a branch, contacted Ithaca Police minutes before the Jan. 9 arrest and told Ithaca Police officials that there was going to be a DHS operation in the city, Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 said. The DHS official did not specify what kind of operation was going to be carried out, and Ithaca Police declined to standby at the location.
Ithaca Police Officer Jamie Williamson, a spokesperson for the department, confirmed that DHS did not contact the department in advance of Tuesday’s arrest and added that the department does not participate in ICE operations.
The City of Ithaca passed sanctuary city legislation last February that prohibits City employees — including Ithaca Police — from inquiring about a person’s immigration status unless it is necessary to investigate criminal activity. The legislation also prohibits Ithaca Police from providing an immigration agency with access to an individual if the agency’s sole purpose is enforcement of federal immigration law.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recently told a Senate committee that the Department of Justice is exploring “what avenues might be available” to arrest and charge local officials who enact sanctuary legislation. Myrick said recently that federal officials would have to put him “under the jail” to stop him from keeping the sanctuary city legislation in place.
“I don’t like ICE coming into town, taking someone away, and not explaining who, what or why they did what they did,” Myrick said in a brief phone interview on Wednesday.
“The absence of information” after Tuesday’s arrest, Myrick said, “breeds rumors, rumors create fear, and when people are afraid… bad things happen.”
Myrick emphasized that undocumented Ithacans should not be afraid to contact local police if they are victims of a crime.
“No matter what your immigration status is, if you’re the victim of a crime or believe you might be, flag down a police officer, because the last thing we want is people being abused and not being able to call local law enforcement,” he said.
The two arrests earlier this month occurred during a five-day sweep in Western New York in which ICE said in a news release that it detained 35 men and 11 women who are foreign nationals.
ICE said in the release that half of those arrested during the sweep had criminal convictions and that the operation “targeted public safety threats,” although the unsigned release also said it was targeting “other immigration violators” as well.
In May, ICE arrested Jose Guzman-Lopez, a Mexican national, on Cascadilla Street as he was on his way to work at Saigon Kitchen, The Sun previously reported. He pleaded guilty to possessing a fake green card at the time of his arrest and an immigration judge released him on $10,000 bond earlier this month as his deportation case continues, Tompkins Weekly reported.
Earlier this month, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol van was seen in downtown Ithaca near the Ithaca Commons, but was not in the city for any investigative purpose, according to CBP.
“The CBP canine vehicle was in Ithaca for a veterinary appointment,” CBP spokesperson David Long told The Sun on Jan. 10, when the vehicle was spotted at the Sunoco on the corner of Green and Cayuga streets.
The three ICE operations in the City of Ithaca have occurred on Tuesdays, some immigrant rights activists have noted in recent days. Harris urged “concerned Ithacans” to join the Rapid Response Network “to defend immigrants from abuses by governmental authorities” and to expand legal and other resources for arrested immigrants. The network runs a hotline that can be reached at 607-358-5119.