A dozen members of Sunset Park ICE Watch met before dawn on Wednesday in front of the McDonald’s on 4th Avenue and 37th Street. Morning rush hour was coming up and it was another opportunity to educate their heavily immigrant community about how to deal with federal immigration authorities who have adopted increasingly aggressive tactics to track down and arrest undocumented immigrants.
The group has been organizing watches each morning this week in response to the Feb. 6 shooting of Erick Cruz, and the Trump Administration’s escalating immigration enforcement tactics. As the most recent consequence of Donald Trump’s crackdown on sanctuary cities, teams of highly militarized Border Patrol agents have reportedly been sent to New York, along with a host of other ‘sanctuary cities,’ including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston and Newark.
‘None of us are lawyers. None of us are immigration experts, but we are concerned about our fellow community members.’
Jorge Muñiz, an organizer with Sunset Park ICE Watch and the leader of Wednesday morning’s patrol group in Brooklyn, noted that the goal for the joint Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-Border Patrol operation is to increase their arrests by 35 percent in the city. He explained to the volunteers that officers operate by seeking out a particular person, secretly showing up at their home, and misidentifying themselves as city officials. As a result, people often volunteer information to immigration authorities.
“We’ve seen them trying to knock on doors,” Muñiz warned. However, he added, “Nobody can have their home forcibly entered without a judicial warrant.”
The goal of an ICE watch is two-fold: to record any interaction that appears to be police activity (because it can be difficult to differentiate ICE from NYPD), and to pass out know-your-rights leaflets. Sunset Park ICE Watch meets at times when and in places in the neighborhood where they’ve seen ICE the most active.
“We’re here because this activity needs to be seen, needs to be watched and needs to be documented,” Muñiz said. “The most important thing today is bearing witness. None of us here are lawyers. None of us here are immigration experts, but we are concerned about our fellow community members.
Nina, originally from Europe, has been living in New York for four years. She found out about the watch the night before via Twitter.
“Being in the immigration system, I get a glimpse of what the bureaucracy is like, but I feel that I am on the privileged end of it,” she said. “I’m glad to be able to do something to help.”
The volunteers split into groups of two and spread out through the neighborhood. Commuters were often hesitant initially to be approached by strangers but most were happy to take the handouts.
Toward the end of the two-hour watch, Muñiz was notified that ICE had just left the home of Kevin Yañez-Cruz, brother of Erick Diaz, the man who was shot in the face by a plain-clothed ICE agent on Feb. 6. Yañez-Cruz, a key witness of the shooting, was approached by an officer as he was leaving his home around 7:40 a.m. Wednesday morning. The officer identified himself as a Homeland Security agent, interrogated him and confiscated his phone.
Sunset Park ICE Watch will continue to perform ICE watches early each morning for the rest of the week.
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