Labor Activist Detained by ICE
José Coyote Pérez, an immigrant laborer and labor activist in upstate New York, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on February 24. He is prisoner number A#099757267 in the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York.
He ought not be there. He should not be detained.
Pérez has been in America for fifteen years, he has a permit to work in the U.S., he has a social security number, and he was about to earn his driver’s license. Further, his ICE case was administratively closed in September 2016. In other words, he was a part of the New York State economy, he was a law-abiding resident on his way to citizenship. ICE had closed its file on him.
And yet he is prisoner number A#099757267 in the Batavia detention facility. He may have attracted the attention of ICE because he requested help: On February 22, he was assaulted by a co-worker at his place of employment and he called 9-1-1 for help. The local police arrived, made no arrests, left without incident. On February 24, Pérez was contacted by ICE and informed that he was needed at the office to sign a paper. Because his status as an immigrant seemed to be clear—ICE had closed its file on him last year—he complied, just as he has complied with everything requested of him on his way to full citizenship.
He was arrested on his arrival at the facility.
For many immigrants—those here illegally, those on their way to become legal citizens, and the many who fall somewhere in between those two categories—the reality of deportation haunts every decision they make. Many minimize their encounters with bureaucracy and minimize the paperwork in their lives—not out of a neurotic fear of triplicate forms and angry clerks, but out of the real fear that one of those clerks might call ICE on an angry whim. Every immigrant in the nation knows that he or she must have his or her papers up-to-date and must carry them at all times. Every immigrant knows that any or every bureaucrat they meet wields a pen that can be used to detain or deport them as easily as it can be used to give them what they need, even if they think that their papers are “in order.”
The pursuit of a driver’s license is an act of bravery for many immigrants, because it makes a person “official,” brings their name into American bureaucracy. Many immigrants choose to not pursue a driver’s license until their immigration status is as safe as they can tolerate while still not in possession of a state ID.
On January 25, the US President signed an executive order titled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which expanded ICE’s definition of reasons for deportation: under previous administrations, ICE “prioritized those who had been convicted of serious crimes, were considered national security threats or were recent arrivals,” but the new executive order targets not only criminals “but also—among others—those who’ve been accused of crimes but not convicted, those who have engaged in document fraud, and those who ‘in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.’”
Accused, not convicted.
A criminal defense attorney told me that ICE officers regularly (long before the new presidential administration took office) visited the local courts to review the names of those newly convicted: those with surnames that look foreign were certain to receive visits from ICE officers.
The new expanded mandate—from convicted to accused—led to incidents like this: three men were detained by ICE in Columbia County, New York, last week. Each man had been charged with drunk driving but each man’s drunk driving case is still pending. The men are named Carlos Romero, Sortero Martinez, Audulio Lopez-Garcia. Legal help has been offered to the men’s families, and the city of Hudson (in Columbia County) is taking legal steps to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” in part as a result of this ongoing incident.
As with the new president’s directionless directive that blocked travel from seven specific countries, this directive describes a vaporously vague ideal but gives little in the way of directions to those bureaucrats who are now tasked with implementing it.
ICE’s bureaucrats (just as Homeland Security’s bureaucrats in airports across the nation after the travel ban was announced) have been handed a task that vastly expands their job description and the number of people to be processed and the amount of paperwork, with no increase in agents hired. ICE has no interest in outsiders watching as it figures out how to implement an insane expansion of the organization’s mandate.
The current administration asked ICE to throw bureaucratic caution to the wind and arrest as many people as its agents could, with details like whether or not this or that individual ought to be arrested to be worked out later. And no matter how many were arrested nationally in recent weeks—hundreds so far—ICE and the new president have informed the public of the one or two who perhaps qualified under the old rules and definitions as arrest-worthy, such as an arrest featured in this article from Breitbart last week.
José Coyote Pérez, a father of four, is among those arrested. He had not committed a crime, was not accused of a crime, had complied with all that has been requested of him on his route to full citizenship. He had not evaded bureaucratic entanglements and he felt secure enough in his immigration status to begin the process to earn his drivers’s license and even felt secure enough in his status to call 9-1-1 when he needed help.
What lesson ought any immigrant who is not as secure in his or her citizenship status or paperwork as Mr. Pérez take from this arrest and detention?
The Central New York (CNY) Solidarity Coalition has done a remarkable job in bringing attention to the story of José Coyote Pérez. A rally was held at noon on February 28 in Syracuse.
The group published a statement yesterday with instructions for those who want to telephone the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility office of the Chief Counsel and register their concern about José Coyote Pérez:
The phone number is (716) 551-4741. Press 4# (four followed by the # sign) to reach the office. The group reports that it took many phone calls to this number to confirm that Pérez is in the facility and to glean his prisoner number.
The group’s suggested phone call script reads: “My name is ______ and I want to bring to the attention of the Chief Counsel the case of José Coyote Pérez, A#099757267, who is in Batavia detention Center. He is the father of four children and community leader in Upstate and Central NY, member of the Workers’ Center of CNY and other community organizations. His case was administratively closed in September, but he was detained on February 24, 2017. Please release him and close his case again so he can return to his children and continue to be an advocate for human rights.”
If you place a call, please use this form, “Responses from ICE regarding Jose Coyote Perez,” to register with the group and record any conversation.
I will update this story if and when an update can be given.
This story is republished from The Gad About Town, where Goshen-based journalist Mark Aldritch publishes essays and reports on a wide range of subjects.