Gov. Cuomo threatens I.C.E. with legal action if “unconstitutional” raids continue in New York

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, meets with Dairy Farmer John Collins, whose farm was raided by ICE officials last week . Agents took away a long-time employee and Collins himself was handcuffed when he questioned the officers. Cuomo is trying to prevent similar raids in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a cease-and-desist letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office on Wednesday, arguing that the federal agency had no business in storming an upstate New York farm and arresting one of its employees earlier this month.

During a press conference to discuss his letter, Cuomo called the federal agency’s raid on John Collins’ Rome, New York dairy farm and private residence “illegal violations” and “unconstitutional activities.” In addition to the cease-and-desist notice, Gov. Cuomo also modified an existing executive order, now barring ICE from arresting anyone in a state facility without a warrant.

The governor also cited a danger to public safety, saying ICE agents had routinely failed to notify state and local law enforcement agencies of upcoming raids and investigations.

“I understand the power of the federal government; I was in the federal government for eight years,” Cuomo said during the press conference on Wednesday. “But I also understand the Constitution of the United States, and it doesn’t say the federal government can come in and do whatever it wants, whenever it pleases. That’s as a matter of law.”

The move comes after news broke of an April 18 raid on Collins’ dairy farm. According to him, ICE agents produced no warrant and would not answer questions as they handcuffed one of his employees, Marcial de Leon Aguilar.

Collins says Aguilar had valid paperwork for employment, but his wife and children were seeking asylum after coming from Guatemala. When Collins tried to intervene and took photographs and videos of the arrest, he says agents handcuffed him and threatened to arrest him for impeding an investigation.

The Collins Farm, courtesy of WKTV

Gov. Cuomo called that an unconstitutional move, and threatened to sue the agency if they continued to conduct such raids.

“We believe ICE is violating the law and endangering public safety in all of those instances,” Cuomo said, referring to the arrest of Aguilar and others by ICE. “And we’re going to put them on notice today that if they continue, the State will sue them. Period. Because the State has the responsibility for upholding the constitutional rights of the people who live in New York, and as Governor my job is to protect New Yorkers, and I am going to do that and we will take action because we believe ICE is acting beyond the law.”

In addition to potential legal action, New York is bolstering investment for the Liberty Defense Project. The public-private defense fund, which ensures that all immigrants have access to high quality legal counsel, was granted $10 million in state aid under the 2019 budget.

In a statement responding to the governor’s announcement, ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan called Cuomo’s comments “inaccurate and an insult to ICE’s sworn law enforcement officers who conduct their lawful mission professionally and with integrity.” According to Homan, Aguilar was a three-time deportee with a criminal record.

Homan went on to state that ICE had arrested nearly 5,000 illegal immigrants in New York since September 2016, while criticizing the governor for allowing sanctuary policies — which limit cooperation between local, state and federal agencies when it comes to apprehending illegal immigrants — to go into effect in various portions of the state.

“ICE will continue to protect New York communities against public safety and national security threats and it is false and offensive for the governor to say otherwise.”

Gov. Cuomo blamed the increase in ICE’s politicization and questionable tactics on President Trump’s rhetoric on immigration. The president, whose campaign was founded on a promise to build a wall on the US-Mexican border, has continued to call for stronger policies in dealing with illegal immigrants.

“I believe he is wrong in his policy, I believe that’s not what America is all about because immigration is not just a New York story, it is the American story,” Cuomo said. “I believe his heated rhetoric is now driving abusive practices like the abusive practices we see at ICE. I think they violate the law and I think it’s our responsibility as a state government and New York to stand up and make that case, and that’s what we’re going to do.