By U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Department of Homeland Security), via Wikimedia Commons

ITHACA, N.Y. —  The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took an undocumented Mexican immigrant into custody Tuesday morning in Ithaca and scores of people in the community who considered the city a “sanctuary” are asking the same question: “How did this happen here?”

Jose Lopez Guzman, 32, was taken into custody by multiple ICE agents around 11:30 a.m. on Cascadilla Street. He does not have family members in Ithaca.

ICE said in a brief statement Tuesday night that the arrest happened “following a routine targeted enforcement action.”

Khaalid Walls, regional director of communications for the northeast region of ICE, clarified Wednesday morning that Guzman was specifically sought out due to “a routine targeted enforcement action.”

“That just means he is here unlawfully,” Walls said. “It’s not uncommon. Officers are out there every day.”

Previously, former President Barack Obama issued initiatives to ensure that Homeland Security — which ICE falls under — prioritized the arrest and deportation of gang members, felons and those who posed security threats to the country.

Under President Donald Trump’s administration, however, officials are being permitted to detain and deport more people.

The New York Times recently reported, “Under the new directives, the government “no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.” Immigration agents can now focus on picking up and removing anyone charged with or convicted of any criminal offense, even minor ones, as well as anyone already ordered deported, regardless of whether they have a criminal record.”

Related: Trump’s Immigration Policies Explained

In Guzman’s case, it’s unclear whether a criminal charge dating back to 2013 played a role in his arrest Tuesday.

According to court records, Guzman was charged with second-degree assault after an incident that allegedly occurred Oct. 31, 2013.

The records state that an argument ensued at an Ithaca home and a man was stabbed. Guzman was implicated in the stabbing, but witnesses did not indicate that they saw him commit the crime. Guzman was released on $7,500 bail and the case was held for grand jury on Nov. 6, 2013.

No further action was ever taken in the case, and Guzman was never indicted or further prosecuted for the crime. On Jan, 26, 2017, bail money was returned and his status was changed to being released on his own recognizance.

District Attorney Matt Van Houten said there are no plans to re-investigate the five-year-old incident, which is technically still considered an open case.

While he could not speak specifically about Guzman’s case, he said there are many reasons why a crime might not be prosecuted, such as a witness declining to press charges or a lack of evidence in the case.

“We certainly didn’t communicate with ICE….” Van Houten said. “I’m on board with the sanctuary city concept.”

Acting Police Chief Pete Tyler said Tuesday night that officers at the IPD were not involved in the arrest effort.

Walls said the arrest was carried out by ICE officials and declined to say how many people were involved in taking Guzman into custody, citing “operational security reasons.”

In a follow-up email answering questions about Guzman’s charges, Walls wrote, ““ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. However, as Secretary Kelly has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

Guzman was previously represented by local attorney Jeffrey D. Walker, of Schlather, Stumbar, Parks & Salk, LLP.

Walker said in an email that he represented Guzman as an assigned counsel.

“I have no comment on his new detention, or the pending criminal matter at this time; however, I am working to contact Mr. Guzman and, respectfully, I may have some newsworthy information shortly,” he wrote.

Is ICE targeting sanctuary cities?

In February, Ithaca Common Council voted to add some teeth to the city’s Sanctuary City status, which had been in place since 1985.

In the new ordinance, city officials, including police officers, are specifically directed to not ask for a person’s immigration status unless the person is actively committing a crime related to their status. The legal ordinance means that local law enforcement does not enforce federal immigration laws.

The ordinance was passed, officials said, based not only on ethical and moral grounds but because data shows that Sanctuary Cities — in comparison to non-Sanctuary Cities — have less crime, higher median rates of income, lower rates of unemployment and lower rates of poverty.

Unanimous vote: Ithaca now a Sanctuary City with some teeth

Legislator Anna Kelles, who worked on the resolution to make Tompkins County a sanctuary county in February,  said that despite the designations, it would be against the law to prevent ICE from coming to Ithaca or Tompkins County, something that has been a public misconception.

“There’s two things we can’t prevent,” Kelles said. “One we can’t prevent them from coming into Tompkins County. Tompkins County’s part of the country. Two, we cannot legally prevent anyone from voluntarily providing information that works for Tompkins County to the federal government .. which is why we specifically had that stipulation.

Tompkins moves to become a sanctuary county; here’s what that means

CNN reported on March 25, however, that the sanctuary city status of more than 200 cities nationally is linked to increased enforcement operations in those areas.

The news organization credited a senior US immigration official with direct knowledge of ongoing ICE actions with informing them that, “High-ranking ICE officials have discussed in internal meetings carrying out more raids on those locations…”

Related: Source: ICE is targeting ‘sanctuary cities’ with raids

Walls said, “I don’t have the statistics specifically for Ithaca, but I can tell you that ICE officers routinely make arrests in Central and Northern New York as part of routine operations.”

Multiple local police officers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that in at least the past 10 years of working at IPD, none of them could recall an instance where a person was taken into custody by ICE.

Local activists have also struggled to recall a recent Ithaca detainment by ICE.

Guzman is currently in custody at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, located almost an hour east of Buffalo.

Walls said the next step in Guzman’s immigration status is to be seen by a judge at the Batavia Immigration Court.

According to the court’s website, “Batavia Immigration Court falls under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, which is a component of the Executive Office for Immigration Review under the Department of Justice.”

John Martin, Public Information Officer for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, said obtaining information about Guzman’s case requires a registration number for the case and, in some instances, a privacy waiver.

However, in general, Martin said Guzman may be eligible for bond.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that Guzman would be provided with a lawyer free of charge. However, it is unclear whether that is the case for Guzman. We have retracted the statement. 

Reporter Kelsey O’Connor contributed to this reporting. 

The Ithaca Voice is working to obtain more information about Guzman’s case. If you or someone you know wants to report an incident involving ICE in Tompkins County, contact Jolene Almendarez at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com.

Featured image by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Department of Homeland Security), via Wikimedia Commons.

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.