Raid in Northern New York Increases Deportation Fears

The daughter of one of the workers detained in the raid in Buffalo asks for a halt on deportations and that her family not be separated. (Photo via El Diario)

The daughter of one of the workers detained in the raid in Buffalo asks for a halt on deportations and that her family not be separated. (Photo via El Diario)

Donald Trump has not yet taken office as president of the United States, but the raid that took place a month ago in Buffalo, in which 25 immigrants were detained, has only increased the tension felt since the Republican won the election with a promise to deport millions of undocumented people.

On Oct. 18, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) carried out an operation at four restaurants and a number of houses across the state of New York, an action pro-immigrant advocates say violates the federal rule issued in November of 2014 that stated that priority would be placed only on dangerous criminals, not separating families.

Brenda Valladares, an organizer with the Harvest Movement – which is helping the families of the immigrants arrested in the raid carried out in the Agave, Don Tequila, La Divina and El Agave restaurants in Buffalo – explained that undocumented people without a criminal record were detained. She said that “la migra” took the wives of the arrested workers and detained minors and handed them over to social services programs.

“There was a vicious raid against honest workers who got caught up in the operation, which was part of Homeland Security’s largest investigation, spanning two and a half years, against business owners for not paying taxes, failure to declare income and employing undocumented people,” said the activist, who denounced the action for breaking the federal government’s commitment to not carry out raids at work sites.

“Obama had said that he would not attack employees, and these people – who are mostly dishwashers, cooks and waiters from Mexico and Honduras – are working between 12 and 14 hours per day, up to six days per week, with salaries below minimum wage. They are not criminals,” added Valladares. She also explained that, although the workers were later released, six of them were made to wear electronic shackles and their deportation process was initiated.

“Our concern is that this investigation was directed at the owner, but resulted in the workers being the main victims,” she said.

ICE confirmed its participation in the operation that took place in the northern New York restaurants, a serious case that could be viewed as worker exploitation, but it defended its move by saying that the agency does not carry out raids but “specific law enforcement actions.”

The Harvest Movement activist criticized the Obama administration for the drastic manner in which it has implemented massive deportation plans throughout his eight-year term, during which time nearly 3 million people have been expelled from the country, surpassing the record of all previous governments. Valladares added that she fears that the next president will pursue that course of action under worse conditions.

“The problem is that, when they say that they will deport criminals, many working people will fall under that category. People who re-entered the country more than once are already considered criminals, as well as [people who have committed] certain misdemeanors and even worked with fake documents,” said Valladares. “In communities of color, the ‘criminal’ branding will be used even more to help Trump carry out more massive deportations or put people in jail for 5 or 10 years.”

According to figures by the Pew Research Center, out of the 3 million immigrants that have been deported by the administration of President Obama – who has been nicknamed “deporter-in-chief” –  half of them had not committed criminal offenses and their deportation has seriously affected the stability of thousands of families.

Immigration attorney César Vargas, who is protected by DACA – a benefit Trump promised to cancel upon moving to the White House – said that he fears that the president-elect will criminalize immigrants even more during his term.

“Trump does not know anything about governing, and he learned about deportations from Obama’s legacy. He is now talking about deporting 3 million criminals, which is worrisome because figures show that the number of undocumented people with a criminal record is much lower than that. Who is he referring to, then?” wondered Vargas.

The Obama administration itself estimates that, to date, nearly 1.9 million people are considered “criminal immigrants.” A large number of them has permanent residency or some type of temporary visa, and a significant portion of them has committed minor offenses but not violent crimes. Moreover, the number of non-citizen immigrants with a criminal background is estimated at 820,000, of whom the percentage of undocumented people is less than half.

Although political leaders in the state and city of New York have said that they will protect undocumented people living in this part of the country, many activists fear that, if under the Obama administration – which promoted support for immigrants – deportations were a daily occurrence, the outlook for the Trump era seems much more somber.

Javier H. Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, agreed that the current administration caused much harm to the immigrant community through its deportation plan, but warned that the rhetoric of the president-elect during his campaign foretells an even worse situation for undocumented people than prevailed during the last eight years.

“We have strongly criticized President Obama’s public policy, which has separated millions of families. But what Donald Trump has promised is different and worse. He intends to terrorize our community after prioritizing the separation of millions more immigrant families at the beginning of his term,” said the activist, who also pointed out that it is not hard to imagine what the future will look like, considering the people he has appointed to his government so far.

“He now wants to appoint one of the most anti-immigrant figures in the country, Sen. Jeff Sessions, as attorney general. We do not accept this. We will continue to fight to combat this offensive policy,” he said.

Kevin Appleby, from the Center for Migration Studies of New York, warned that, if Trump intends to deport 3 million people, he will resort to tactics that will further divide communities and increase terror. “He would have to do a sweep, raids or tactics of that sort in order to reach the number he is talking about. He would create a police state in which they would have to seek people out aggressively.”

Should a wave of raids occur, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that the Big Apple will not allow a crusade against undocumented people, and stressed that the city will prepare to respond to whatever the new Trump administration brings.

“We are going to fight to protect our values, as our mayor and governor have said, because New York is and will continue to be a sanctuary city and we will continue to defend those principles,” she said.

Asked about whether the operations against undocumented people will intensify in New York and other states, a spokeswoman for ICE said that the agency does not reveal information regarding future operations, and explained that its officials abide by the orders issued by the heads of the corresponding government offices.

“Currently, ICE makes the determination to expel people out of the country on a case by case basis, and prioritizes serious criminals and other individuals who represent a significant threat to public safety,” said the representative. She added that they will continue to follow the November 2014 guidelines, in which the DHS stated that detention and deportation actions should focus on delinquents such as gang members, drug traffickers, drug dealers and other felons who have committed serious crimes.

Deportations under President Obama:

  • 2015: 235,413; 59 percent of them had a criminal record
  • 2014: 414,481; 56 percent of them had a criminal record
  • 2013: 368,644; 59 percent of them had a criminal record
  • 2012: 409,849: 50 percent of them had a criminal record
  • 2011: 396,906; 55 percent of them had a criminal record
  • 2010: 392,862; 50 percent of them had a criminal record
  • 2009: 389,834; 35 percent of them had a criminal record
  • 2008: 369,221; 31 percent of them had a criminal record

During the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, nearly 2 million immigrants were deported, 50 percent fewer than during the Obama era.

During the Obama administration, over 3.5 million additional immigrants were caught attempting to cross the border and returned to their country.

In the same period, more than 2.7 million undocumented people returned to their countries voluntarily.

(…)

The Obama administration estimated that there are nearly 1.9 million “criminal immigrants,” but most of them have permanent or temporary residency or some kind of temporary visa, and a percentage of them have not committed violent crimes.

The number of non-citizen immigrants accused of crimes is estimated in 820,000, and most of them have documents.

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