Reporter Kelsey O’Connor contributed to this article. 

ITHACA, N.Y. — The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took three people into custody last month, prompting a rally in the Ithaca Commons Tuesday calling for direct action to take on injustices happening right here in the community.

“Who are the ICE agents? Well, they’re the storm troopers of our day. They are the shock troops of the new fascism. They’re the servants of a kind of state terror, and they’re also cowards,” said Russell Rickford, activist and Cornell University associate professor. “Cowards — we have to be very clear about that…you have to be a coward to invade a community, target…the most vulnerable members among us, the most exploited people — to spy on them and hurt them and kidnap them. Well, that’s the work of cowards.”

According to the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, ICE agents disguised as local police officers went into the Taste of Thai restaurant on the Commons and took two people into custody for immigration violations on Jan. 9.

Related: Taste of Thai chef arrested by ICE released on bond Tuesday

One of the men, Somkiat “Art” Wandee, was released on $7,500 bond Tuesday. The other man, Tatithan Maiyodklang, has not been released. A third man taken by ICE , n Jan. 23 who has not been identified by officials, has publicly unknown whereabouts.

More than 100 people attended the “STOP Criminalizing Our People RALLY” in front of the Bernie Milton Pavilion stage, planned on Tuesday because that’s the day of the week ICE agents have made arrests in Ithaca.

Rafael Aponte, a farmer and activist, said it’s a waste of time and energy for ICE agents to make the long drive from Buffalo or Rochester just to arrest people working hard in local restaurants.

But it’s not just ICE that is a threat to so much of the community, he said. Pollution, gentrification, job opportunities, and a community being led by elements of institutional racism are all barriers to people trying to live their day-to-day lives.

“It’s enough to keep you in bed not getting up in the morning. ..but we still do so anyway because we need to,” Aponte said. “If you’re not scared, you’re not alive. Right? You’re not actually facing the threat that we’re actually facing.”

Many speakers addressed not only immigration, but the intersectionality of injustices locally.

Larisa Camacho said she has lived in this community for more than 20 years and has seen how people have been pushed out of Ithaca.

“Over the last last 20 years, I’ve  watched my neighborhoods disintegrate to gentrification. I’ve watched my friends go to prison. I’ve watched people continuously get pushed out. And there’s no great uproar. There’s no showing up every Tuesday,” she said. “This fight is very personal. It’s very personal for all of us.”

But some of the most vulnerable people in the community cannot show up to rallies or government meetings because they are at great risk to do so, she said.

Several speakers said, for instance, that several Ithaca High School students who called for diversity within the school’s theater department, could not attend the rally because they’d been physically threatened and told that they need to “lay low” for their own safety.

Related: Ithaca High School cancels spring play in wake of student diversity demands

While each speaker took the stage and discussed a variety of issues, the unifying theme was solidarity among each other and determining what exactly solidarity means.

Fabina Benites, director at the Multicultural Resource Center, said solidarity is not an act of altruism of kindness. It’s not a hand down.

“It needs to stop y’all. We can’t wait for the government. We have to create our own process we have to look out for our own people. We have to stand next to each other. We have to stand in the face of injustice,” she said. “We’re stronger together.”

After the rally, about 15 people trickled into Tompkins County Legislature Chambers to speak to their representatives. A handful of people spoke, several expressing concern about not feeling safe in the community. Others asked how they could access data on how many people have been apprehended locally by ICE.
Addressing legislators, activist Carolina Osorio Gil said she is personally concerned with ICE raids. She asked legislators to think about the people who are community members, including those who are undocumented.
“I just want to ask you, do you represent them as well? And that’s whose rights I’m really concerned about and that’s whose fear we’re all feeling – all of us who went to the rally as well.”

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.