The New York City Council doesn’t have the power to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but that didn’t stop local lawmakers from taking a vote to get rid of the controversial federal agency.
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, a Democrat who represents Sunset Park and Red Hook, and who is chairperson of the council’s Committee on Immigration, was among the members voting in favor of a resolution sponsored by Manhattan Democratic Councilmember Helen Rosenthal to go on record as supporting efforts by Democrats in Congress to dismantle ICE.
The resolution has no teeth, since New York City would not be able to eliminate a federal law enforcement unit on its own. ICE, which was created by the Bush Administration in 2003, operates under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
But councilmembers, who voted for the resolution on Sept. 12, said the city has a right and an obligation to take a stand on divisive issues of the day, particularly when they affect New Yorkers.
Councilmembers charged that rather than arrest undocumented immigrants who commit violent crimes, ICE agents in the Trump era are rounding up immigrants who are living quiet, peaceful lives, and who present no dangerous threat to the country.
“For too long, ICE has failed to protect our communities,” Menchaca said in a statement. “The call to abolish ICE not only signifies the end of this rogue agency, but it is the opportunity for us to chart the course for a more humane immigration system, one that would actually bring justice and dignity to all.”
ICE agents have operated far beyond the parameters of their mission, according to Rosenthal.
“Under this president, ICE has dropped even the pretense of targeting individuals who have committed serious felonies, instead opaquely choosing its enforcement targets and in effect terrorizing entire communities. In New York City and across our country, ICE agents have posed as police officers, threatening the critical public safety link between local police and immigrant communities. It has targeted immigration enforcement against political activists. It has wrongly detained hundreds and hundreds of American citizens, some of whom spent years in detention due to ICE’s negligence,” Rosenthal said in a statement.
In one recent case that drew nationwide attention, Pablo Villavicencio, a 35-year-old undocumented immigrant from Ecuador working as a delivery man for a Queens pizzeria, was detained by military police and turned over to ICE when he tried to deliver a food order to the Fort Hamilton Army Base in Bay Ridge on June 1.
Villavicencio had delivered food to the Army base on several previous occasions, using his IDNYC card to gain access to the military post, and never had a problem, according to immigration rights advocates who rallied to his side.
Villavicencio, who is married to an American citizen and is the father of two young daughters, was held in an ICE detention facility pending deportation proceedings.
He was freed from custody on July 24 by order of Federal District Court Judge Paul Crotty, who granted him a stay of deportation.
Villavicencio applied for a green card earlier this year but the application process was still ongoing at the time of his arrest.
Immigrants are terrified to go about their daily lives for fear of encountering ICE agents, Menchaca said.
“Abolishing ICE and ceasing its ties to our city are steps in the right direction, steps that help make sure that our immigrant families can feel safe at work, when dropping their kids at school, communicating with law enforcement, and fundamentally living normal lives,” Menchaca said.
ICE spokesperson Liz Johnson called efforts to target ICE dangerously misguided.
“The recent calls to abolish ICE are dangerously misguided and overlook the vital work that ICE officers and special agents perform each day to keep communities safe. Instead of being insulted with politically-motivated attacks, the men and women of ICE should be praised for risking life and limb every day in the name of national security and public safety,” Johnson said in a statement emailed to this newspaper by ICE.