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After ICE Shooting, New Yorkers Question Whether New York is a ‘Sanctuary City’ Afterall

Amba Guerguerian Feb 10

A group of about 100 demonstrators gathered outside of Maimonides Medical Center on Friday afternoon in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where two men wounded in a confrontation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were being held. 

On Thursday morning, plain-clothes ICE officials attempted to apprehend Gaspar Avendano-Hernandez, a resident of Gravesend, Brooklyn and an undocumented Mexican-American, when he was leaving his house to go to work. When his girlfriend’s sons, Eric Diaz and Kevin Yañez-Cruz, intervened, an ICE agent shot Diaz in the face. According to Yañez-Cruz, the officials did not identify themselves or show an order of deportation to Avendano-Hernandez, who was tasered in the mêlée. 

‘I don’t feel like it’s a sanctuary city, cause if it were, my mayor would be here.’

“He resisted because they didn’t show him no papers,” Yañez-Cruz told WABC. “No badge, no nothing. No warrant, no nothing. They just tackled him and that’s why he reacted the way he reacted.” The ICE agent who fired his weapon “didn’t say, ‘Get down.’ He didn’t say nothing. And he didn’t have nothing, my brother, he didn’t have no weapons in his hands, nothing. The minute they’re tackling him, they get up to the doorstep, I’m here, my brother is here, he thought I was going to get involved, and he pointed the gun at my brother and didn’t even hesitate and pulled the trigger.”

Diaz and Avendano-Hernandez were taken to Maimonides for treatment. 

Protesters who gathered outside the medical center Friday called for ICE to stay out of hospitals, and, morevor, for the agency to be abolished, criticizing their aggressive presence in New York, which has declared itself a sanctuary city. 

Southwest Brooklyn City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca spoke to the crowd, describing the encounter as “an escalation that’s not gonna stop.” 

Together with Carmen Cruz, mother of Diaz and girlfriend of Avendano-Hernandez, he visited the detained pair in the hospital but lamented that Cruz “couldn’t even connect directly to her own son. ICE agents were in front of the bed, directly pushing us away, not saying anything or communicating anything. That is a separation of family. It’s not just happening at the border. It’s happening here in our own hospitals.”

“I know what they’re gonna do,” said Estela Vazquez, a staff member of 1199SEIU who works at Maimonides. “They’re gonna construct a story like they do every time.”

Lizzi Mazal, a neighborhood resident and teacher, came to the rally after an organizing meeting for Close the Camps NYC. She criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio for not attending the event. “I don’t feel like it’s a sanctuary city, cause if it were, my mayor would be here,” she said.

“Today, we are here to free Gaspar,” Ravi Ragbir, a prominent immigrants rights activist and the Executive Director of New Sanctuary Coalition, told the protesters. “We are here to free our community. We are here to free our city. We are here to free our state. We are here to be free.” 

Speaking with The Indypendent after the demonstration he added, “Our goal, apart from getting ICE out of New York, is to get guns out of ICE.”

Some rally-goers wonder if the NYPD didn’t tip off ICE about the location of Avendano-Hernandez’s residence, as he was stopped by the police on Monday for driving with an illegal license plate. 

ICE officials have argued that the NYPD should have taken Gaspar into the precinct when they stopped him. “This forced ICE officers to locate him on the streets of New York rather than in the safe confines of a jail,” ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. 

Anthony Beckford, a resident of East Flatbush, and the president of the Brooklyn’s Copwatch Patrol Unit went to the protest out of a sense of solidarity. 

“Being a cop watcher, we also monitor ICE to show support to the brothers,” he said. “We police the police. We expose any type of interaction they have with the community, especially when local and federal [authorities] are working together when they’re not supposed to.” 

Diaz had surgery for his facial bullet wound on Saturday and is recovering. Avendano-Hernandez was escorted out of the hospital to Hudson County Jail, where he is being held in immigrant detention.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that Diaz is being held in immigrant detention. It also misidentified Estela Vazquez as an executive president of 1199SEIU. She is a staff member who works at who works at Maimonides.

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