Advocates for those living in the country illegally say this week’s two local raids netting 32 people demonstrate a significant uptick in law enforcement activity stemming from President Trump’s executive order to depart “all removable aliens.”
Meghan Maloney, a senior outreach official with the New York Immigration Project, said Thursday that the arrest of construction workers this week by the U.S. Border Patrol indicates a stepped-up enforcement effort.
“The 32 people arrested in Hamburg and Grand Island is definitely, from our perspective, an increase in activity, taking its cues from the executive order,” she said.
Maloney said her statewide advocacy group recognizes something different happening.
“The Border Patrol has traditionally picked up people and created a climate of fear for even those who have papers,” she said. “In this current climate, that fear is much more palpable.”
Other volunteers working with immigrant communities see the same trend.
“This is a clear and direct indication of national policy and a change with the Trump administration,” said the Rev. Justo Gonzalez II, pastor of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s United Church of Christ on Richmond Avenue. “While the local folks say they have had these plans in effect for months, and that may be true, there seems to be a viciousness taking place locally and across the country that is mean spirited and does not recognize the dignity of immigrants.
“For Buffalo, this is unprecedented,” he added.
As a result, Gonzalez said he and clergy from Trinity Episcopal Church will hold a joint 10:30 a.m. press conference Friday at Pilgrim-St. Luke’s to offer their assistance for anyone potentially affected by the new executive order.
A Border Patrol spokesman was unavailable for comment late Thursday. Federal authorities have enforced immigration provisions over the past few days, though it is unclear how the new level compares with past activity.
Tuesday’s arrests stemmed from an anonymous call about a convicted sex offender who had been previously deported but found his way back into the country from Mexico, according to Border Patrol officials.
The name of the offender was not released, but agents said he is one of seven men arrested at a fast-food restaurant on Grand Island.
The arrests began with an anonymous call claiming up to 20 people living in the country illegally were at an address on Long Road and, later, an encounter with two vans containing several occupants, authorities said in a statement released Thursday.
When the vans pulled into a restaurant on Grand Island Boulevard, agents confronted those in one of the vans. Two tried to flee on foot but were caught a short time later at a nearby drug store.
Agents said four of the men in the van were questioned and determined to be in the U.S. illegally. Three other men in the second van were determined to be in the country illegally. They are from Mexico and Honduras.
One person in a van, according to the statement, is a U.S. citizen and was released at the scene. The other men were taken to the Buffalo Border Patrol Station for processing on immigration charges.
Later, two more men were released. One proved to be a lawful permanent resident, authorities said. The other held legal status as an immigrant who came here as a child.
Agents said the sex offender from Mexico was convicted in 2008 in North Carolina and was deported after his conviction.
On Monday in Hamburg, the Border Patrol arrested 23 people suspected of living in the country illegally, the result of a random encounter by agents on a routine patrol in the area, according to a spokesman for the agency.
The Hamburg arrests occurred near a 7-Eleven at Southwestern Boulevard and Sowles Road. The suspects in that roundup also were transported to a holding facility, officials said.
Those dealing with cases now find themselves busy.
Buffalo immigration attorney Matthew Kolken said he has noticed a definite increase in deportation actions since Trump took office last month. He said the new president – who campaigned on a promise to rid the nation of those living in the country illegally – seems to have “unshackled” federal agents who enforce immigration law.
Another immigration lawyer, Michael Marszalkowski, said an executive order issued by Trump on Jan. 25 is “definitely going to have an impact” on deportations in Western New York and nationwide.
“The Jan. 25 order basically changed and expanded the priorities for deporting people,” Marszalkowski told The Buffalo News on Thursday. “It’s a significant expansion. The government’s priority was to deport people who were charged with violent crimes or serious crimes.
“Now, as a result of this new order, the priority is deporting anyone who has any kind of a criminal conviction – no matter how serious – or even anyone who has any kind of a criminal charge pending against them,” he added. “That can include driving while intoxicated or shoplifting.”
Trump has said he hopes to “triple” the force of immigration agents to track down and deport those who have entered the country illegally.
While he is aware of several local enforcement actions in recent days, Marszalkowski said it is too soon to say whether Trump’s orders will result in an all-out crackdown on those who are living in the country illegally.
There are forces in place that will limit any kind of crackdown effort, Marszalkowski said.
“There are only so many federal agents, only so many immigration judges, only so many detention facilities available to handle all the people,” he said. “There are also economic pressures. A lot of businesses in this country rely on these immigrant workers.”
Gonzalez of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s said the new level activity appears to him to be an overreach because few are involved in significant violations of the law.
“Realistically, the mere fact that someone overstayed a visa makes them a criminal,” he said. “Most of these folks have done nothing violent or with criminal activity.”