Where local law enforcement draws the line on ICE, and where those lines are blurred
On July 16, an Orleans County family found themselves the target of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation.
“I would have never thought this would happen to one of my close family… it’s just unbelievable,” Cody Gomez said.
“My uncle was going to work and he got pulled over by the ICE patrols and he got detained. Gone to Batavia,” Gomez added.
ICE Officers arrested Antonino Hernandez-Bautista and brought him to a federal detention center in Batavia.
Officers then went to the family’s Albion house for his wife, Lucila, who was with the family’s oldest daughter.
“I didn’t open the door, and later they said, ‘if you don’t open the door we’ll go out and come back with a judge’s order and we’re going to take you with us and we’re going to take your kids,’” Lucila said in Spanish.
It all took place within Orleans County Sheriff Randy Bower’s jurisdiction. Despite multiple attempts, and multiple messages left with his secretary over two weeks, Bower did not return requests for comment.
Orleans is one of nine counties in the Rochester regional area – all surrounding or encompassing the city of Rochester, which, as Deputy Mayor James Smith says, is a designated sanctuary city.
“If ICE is going to be targeting immigrants and refugees that’s not something we support and it’s not something we’re going to assist them with,” Smith said.
That said, those nine counties surrounding the city are not sanctuary counties.
Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter says that their law enforcement cooperates with ICE as it would with any other federal agency. They do not, however, go beyond their limits as local law enforcement.
“I do not ask my deputies to go look at federal or immigration status. Or even when we pull someone over, it shouldn’t be a question we’re asking what their immigration status is,” Baxter said.
“We’re enforcing NYS local traffic law in that example. With that being said, if an ICE agent is calling for help or an ICE agent needs assistance, just like an FBI or DEA agent, we’ll of course help them; they’re law enforcement,” he added.
It’s about the same to the east of the city in Wayne County. Out here it’s more rural. There are more farms. And there’s a large population of migrant workers.
Sheriff Barry Virts says that his department, like Baxter’s, also cooperates with ICE.
“If someone committed a crime, and we arrested them, and then during our investigation we found out they were here unlawfully, we would report that to ICE,” Virts said.
Virts later clarified that those records are shared with ICE, but it is up to ICE officers whether they will pursue any case. Generally speaking, crimes could include misdemeanors -- like petty larceny, or resisting arrest.
Virts said that in the past, ICE has housed inmates from the Batavia detention center in the Wayne County Jail, but ICE agents haven’t requested to do so recently.
None of the counties around Rochester are involved in a voluntary ICE program, 287g.
“287g is basically a program that ICE has that I would send -- if I wanted to participate which I don’t -- you would send a deputy to their training and then they would act as a dual agent. They would act as a county deputy sheriff and they would act as an ICE agent,” Virts said.
Only one county in New York participates, and that’s Rensselaer County next to Albany. It’s one of 89 law enforcement agencies in the country that are registered.
Rensselaer County Sheriff Pat Russo says he’s happy with the decision.
“Because I think it’s important to remove a criminal element from society – whether it means if you’re a citizen and you go to prison, or you’re an illegal alien and you go back to wherever you came from,” Russo said.
Two of his corrections officers went through the four-week training program -- paid for by the federal government. Russo says that the officers were not trained to patrol or conduct sweeps, but work instead in the county jail.
According to the Memorandum of Agreement between ICE and the Sheriff’s office, trained officers can serve arrest warrants for immigration violations, issue immigration detainers, as well as detain and transport arrestees to detention facilities for deportation. They also receive funds for housing arrestees.
“If we house the inmate in here we get $97 a day to house that inmate,” Russo said.
There is no uniform approach, and that makes a precarious situation for immigrants who are awaiting their legal status or who are undocumented.
Back in Monroe County, Sheriff Baxter calls for consistency.
"Put yourself in the shoes of the immigrant. If you go to one jurisdiction, you’ll be fine. If you go to another jurisdiction, you can’t be fine," Baxter said.
"That’s not the way law is supposed to be written. That’s not the way we’re supposed to be enforcing law in America. You know, it should be as consistent as possible," he added.