Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted dozens of operations in the metropolitan area in the last week and arrested approximately 40 people, according to a leaked ICE memo acquired and published by the New York Immigration Coalition. The leak comes on the heels of reports Saturday night that ICE had arrested and detained five men of Mexican nationality in Staten Island.
Reports of ICE activity in the five boroughs also follow a week of heightened tension among immigrant communities and activists, with confirmation of raids and targeted arrests in at least six states including California, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Illinois. Advocates based in Hudson, New York also confirmed at least four people detained by ICE this month. While ICE has issued statements describing the arrests as "routine," advocates say they are troubled by the pace and scale of ICE operations, which they believe may indicate President Donald Trump is firing up the deportation machine.
One of Trump's recent executive orders targets for deportation any non-citizen with an arrest on his or her record. A recent analysis from the Los Angeles Times estimates that as many as 8 million people could be considered a deportation priority under Trump.
"We can't say that these particular operations are specific only to the executive order, but they are definitely exacerbated," Thanu Yakupitiyage, a spokesperson for NYIC, told Gothamist Sunday morning. "We see this as a ramp up in enforcement efforts."
ICE has the legal authority to conduct raids and detain immigrants in New York City, regardless of NYPD cooperation. Under President Obama, ICE agents conducted hundreds of raids in the city, at courthouses and private residences.
Rosemary Boeglin, a spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio, told Gothamist in a statement that the mayor’s office has received “credible reports” of ICE activity in the city in recent days.
"The Mayor is closely monitoring the situation and the Administration is working with NYPD and community organizations to verify the activity as we receive reports," she said.
ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow told Gothamist that "the information in the memo is correct," but that "I do not yet have the breakdown of the arrests by area to confirm anything for Staten Island." ICE is planning to release a full breakdown of the arrests on Monday.
"We are horrified and angered by the ICE raids and activity in the greater New York area that has led to the arrest and detainment of 40 people," said NYIC Director Steve Choi in a statement accompanying the leaked ICE memo. "Shame on ICE for putting New York's immigrant communities—four million strong—in a state of panic."
— NYIC (@thenyic) February 12, 2017
According to the ICE memo, the "vast majority" of the arrests, "nearly 95%," were of people with pre-existing criminal convictions. The memo describes the actions as "routine, daily targeted operations" conducted to arrest "public safety threats," including individuals who have been deported previously, or have criminal or gang convictions.
The memo, which does not include details on specific operations within the five boroughs, also emphasizes that the arrests were not large-scale raids or sweeps, calling such reports "false, dangerous and irresponsible."
But Yakupitiyage pointed to the other five percent of arrests. "There were also five percent of people who were just swept up," she said. She also pointed to the arrest in Arizona last week of an undocumented woman during a routine ICE check-in. Though she had a felony conviction and deportation order on her record, for eight years the woman had never been considered a priority.
"Our argument is that even a ramp up of enforcement that targets individuals is still extremely concerning," Yakupitiyage said.
Make the Road NY Co-Director Deborah Axt agreed in a statement Sunday that ICE's focus on non-citizens with previous deportation orders was "over-broad," and indicated a shift in tactics. This type of enforcement is legal. Though Obama, who deported a record 400,000 people-plus annually early in his presidency, later narrowed ICE's focus to convicted felons.
"Make no mistake: this definition is broad enough to cover nearly anyone who came to this country to survive, to put food in their children's mouths, or to flee violence and persecution," Axt said.
As for the five men arrested on the North Shore of Staten Island last week, it was not immediately clear if any of the group had criminal convictions on their records. According to the advocacy group Make the Road NY, which first reported the arrests, four of the men were arrested at home early in the morning, and the fifth outside of a courthouse. Politico reports that some of the men have American-born children.
The news of raids has caused panic in immigrant communities across the city. "Already people are choosing not to go to work or operate in their daily lives," Yakupitiyage said.
She added that NYIC acquired the memo "from our networks" in the immigration field, and decided to publish it so that New Yorkers can be as informed as possible. "Yesterday there was a rumor that ICE was in Jackson Heights and that was known to be not true."
Other advocacy groups have stepped up their outreach efforts to support immigrant communities across the city (you can check out our guide to immigrant rights here). On Sunday morning, the Legal Aid Society launched a 24-hour hotline (844-955-3425) for families with ICE detention cases.
"Any New Yorker who has been impacted by these raids or has a basic immigration question can call our hotline for immediate legal assistance—Legal Aid attorneys are standing by and ready to help," said Attorney-in-Chief Seymour W. James Jr. in a statement.
According to the ICE memo, "some" of the individuals arrested last week will face criminal prosecution for illegal entry or re-entry. Those with outstanding deportation orders are "subject to immediate removal." Others are in custody awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge.
New Yorkers should know that City officials, including the NYPD, will never ask about your immigration status.
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) February 12, 2017
The Mayor's Office reiterated NYC's existing immigrant protections on Sunday. "New Yorkers should rest assured that City officials, including the NYPD, will never ask about your immigration status and the NYPD will never become immigration enforcement agents," Boeglin stated.
"We will continue to stand with the nearly 40 percent of New Yorkers who are foreign born—documented or undocumented—and we will use all of the tools at our disposal to protect them from any federal overreach," she added.
The NYPD does not inquire about immigration status under most circumstances, and is not obligated to hold New Yorkers at city jails on ICE's behalf, unless an individual has been convicted of one of 170 "violent" felonies.
But the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio have come under fire in recent weeks for their ongoing commitment to so-called “Broken Windows” policing measures that frequently sweep up poor people of color. Broken windows, critics say, puts immigrants at risk, because when noncitizens are arrested, their fingerprints are entered into a database accessible to ICE.
"The NYPD may assure that they will not ask individuals about their immigration status," Immigrant Defense Project communications director Michael Velarde told Gothamist recently. "But for structural reasons, in terms of who and what the department targets, it may still inadvertently aid Trump's hateful deportation agenda."
[UPDATE 6 p.m.] An ICE spokesperson stated late Sunday that ICE "will not confirm an operation prior to its completion, nor will ICE speculate on future operational activities."