Elmer Erazo, a 32-year-old Flanders resident, was one of several East Enders who were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during a six-day sweep that culminated on April 14.
Federal immigration authorities arrested a total of 225 people in New York, the Hudson Valley and Long Island under “Operation Keep Safe New York”— including 21 people on Suffolk County, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Public Affairs Officer Rachael Yong Yow.
Of the 21 people detained in Suffolk, at least eight people have been arrested on the East End, with confirmed detentions in Flanders, Westhampton, Hampton Bays and East Hampton.
“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” said ICE officials in a release. “However, ICE no longer exempts 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.”
According to P., a close relation of Erazo who spoke in the condition of anonymity, said she spoke with Erazo —an immigrant from Guatemala— and learned he was leaving his home in Flanders around 7 a.m. last Tuesday when an unmarked car that had been following him for a couple of blocks, approached him and put the sirens on.
Thinking they were police officers, Erazo stopped his car near Hampton Deli on Route 24. An officer asked him for his driver’s license and insurance, which he provided. The officer then asked him to step out of the car and told him he was under arrest. Once Erazo was in the unmarked car, the man identified himself as an ICE agent, Erazo told his friend.
“It feels very wrong that ICE is trying to act like they are local police officers,” said P. “They are not, and they should have told him that from the beginning.”
Erazo, who was undocumented and had no prior orders of deportation, was charged with a DWI in 2014 and his driver’s license was temporarily suspended, P. said. A year later he was re-arrested at a checkpoint in Westhampton for driving with a suspended license. The suspension was later resolved and all fines paid.
“When he was re-arrested he had been working, and after a year of not driving he thought his license was good again, when it wasn’t,” said P.
Erazo first came to the United States directly to the East End in 2002 when he has 17 years old, and since then, has been working as a landscaper. P., who knows Erazo since 2004, said that he is a responsible, hard-working community member who loves the United States.
“In Guatemala, the town where we’re from [a little locality called Rio Negro] there’s extreme poverty and violence, it’s not a good place to be,” P. explained.
A father of two, Erazo attends Mass every Sunday at St. John the Evangelist Church in Riverhead, likes to go the gym and spend time with his daughters, P. said.
“Elmer made one mistake in all the years he was living here, he is not a criminal, he just wants to provide a better life for his family and he has done that” P. said. “He has worked for many years in the same place, and people trust him.”
Erazo was being held as of yesterday in a correctional facility in El Paso, New Mexico, the fourth facility in one week, immigration attorney Christoper Worth, and Erazo’s lawyer, said.
“It’s difficult when a client is so far away and things move so quickly because ICE is sometimes responsive and sometimes is not.”
“From speaking to the lawyer in New Mexico, El Paso is a place where you have more difficult judges and, in immigration court, so much depends on who is your judge and where you’re detained,” he said.
Another Flanders man reported being stopped the same day and on the same location as Erazo by the same unmarked car and a possible white van. After following his car all the way to Route 105, the unmarked car put the sirens on. The man, again, thinking it was police, provided identification when asked. The agent asked him if he had ever been arrested and when he said no, the agent went to his car, possibly to check that claim. After a few minutes he let him go.
According to a press release issued by ICE on Tuesday, of those arrested, more than 180 were convicted criminals or had criminal charges pending—with criminal histories of felony convictions for child sex crimes, weapons charges and assault, aggravated DWI, Assault 2nd, criminal trespass 2nd, driving while ability impaired, and driving while intoxicated— and more than 80 had been issued a final order of removal and failed to depart the United States.
Officials said that the arrests lead to detention and deportation proceedings for all those arrested, with federal prosecution in some cases.
“ICE continues to face significant obstacles with policies created by local officials which hinder cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement,” Thomas R. Decker, field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations in New York, said in the news release. “Yet, with the tireless efforts of the men and women of ICE, this operation was a great success.”
During the past weeks, local immigrant advocates have raised the alarm about the way the agency has been increasingly targeting undocumented immigrants on the street, regardless of their criminal record.
“OLA was contacted by trusted members of our community regarding several recent occurrences of ICE using unmarked cars to pull over Latinos and then run their names and/or ID.,” said OLA of Eastern Long Island executive director Minerva Pérez.
OLA said in a statement that they contacted local Southampton Town Police to verify these rumors and they in turn called ICE to learn if that had been happening or not. OLA said that the Southampton Police Department confirmed it did and that local law enforcement was not notified that unmarked ICE cars would be doing that.
“While local law enforcement might ask to be informed they might not always be,” the OLA statement said. “In addition, local law enforcement is asked to assist on certain ICE calls as safety back up. This further confuses our community on who to trust and when.”
Southampton Town Police did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
“One argument is that they might be making more arrests on the streets because there are less civil rights implicated than if you take somebody out of their house,” said Worth. “It can be challenged if [ICE] didn’t have a warrant to be on the house and then trying to attack the deportation based upon that. If you arrest somebody on the street they don’t have to worry about explaining probable cause to be in a particular place.”
In Tuesday’s press release, ICE claimed that New York’s sanctuary city policies are responsible for compelling the agency to conduct mass arrests, arguing that the policy has become necessary as the police have begun releasing people from jail instead of turning them over to ICE.
“The fact is that a so-called “sanctuary city” does not only provide refuge to those who are here against immigration law, but also provides protections for criminal aliens who prey on the people in their own communities by committing crimes at all levels,” Enforcement Operations New York field office director Thomas R. Decker said.
But Perez said that, outside of the definition of what a sanctuary city is, local residents need to able to trust local law enforcement.
“We are here for our full community. If one of us is hunted, we are all hunted,” OLA’s statement said. “We are a community that will stand together to support those who need us.