The North Fork Latino community is reeling following a series of arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents during the last two weeks, prompting an outcry from local residents over what immigrant advocates and residents call a “very fearful time.”
Like any other Monday morning, Moisés Martinez, a 41-year-old Greenport resident, kissed his three daughters good-bye and left his home to go to work around 6:30 a.m. After a few minutes, he noticed an unmarked car following him.
Martinez, who was on foot, was then approached by ICE, who, after verifying it was him, detained him and took him away, first to Central Islip and then to a detention facility in New Jersey, where he is now.
“We should be welcoming those who are here for a better life instead of ‘closing the doors’ or arresting them when they go to work,” Ridge resident Tanya Zaleski said. “When we close our doors to anyone based upon their language, their religion or their race we are no better than those countries who caused these people to flee.”
North Fork Spanish Apostolate director Sister Margaret Smyth has known Moises and his family for over a decade and said that there is “panic and sorrow in the church because of [his arrest.]”
“What is happening to Moises is very bad,” Smyth said. “He is a very good person, with deep roots in the community and now his family has been torn apart.”
Zaleski, a friend of the family since 2005, said that he always joked with Martinez that if she ever won the lottery she would build a house next to them and “pay whatever it takes” to remedy his legal status.
“His love for his family and THIS country is evident in everything he says or does,” Zaleski said in a statement. “I would be proud to call him my neighbor (if I lived next door) and I AM proud to call him my friend.”
Martinez’s arrest was most likely prompted because his information came up on the court system database, which was then picked up by ICE, said Patrick Young, special professor of immigration law at Hofstra University School of Law and program director at CARECEN-NY, which provides legal assistance to immigrant communities on Long Island.
“ICE arrests people because they receive notifications when someone is fingerprinted by police, no matter how minor the crime may be,” he said.
Smyth and Young, as well as other advocates on the South Fork, said that they have seen an uptick in ICE arrests of people who have had DUI/DWI’s, something that wasn’t as common before.
“Neither president Bush nor president Obama made people with low-level crimes, like misdemeanors, a priority,” Young said. “There are lots of people who have made a mistake, and pay for it, and then go on with their lives never to repeat that mistake again.”
Martinez’s current attorney, Hampton Bays immigration lawyer Melinda Rubin, said that she believes ICE has been going through court records and if they see someone with a criminal record who is also in their database, they go out and arrest them, even if that person turns out to have a legal status.
She said that by “picking people up, asking questions later,” independent if they have legal status or not, ICE is “separating families, putting a burden on our system and not thinking about the kids and spouses left behind.”
“The long term ramifications are less important than the short term ones of just saying ‘hey I got rid of these people’,” she said.
In 2015 Martinez was found to be driving while intoxicated, and because he had his daughters with him, that charge was automatically considered a felony. An ICE spokesperson confirmed that Martinez was arrested because he is undocumented, and that they had his criminal record on file as well.
At that time Martinez’s attorney pled guilty to a series of charges for him, something that Martinez’s family say he never meant to do. Rubin said that they have partnered with a criminal attorney and are fighting those charges.
Rubin also said that Martinez has had “an outpouring of support from local American and immigrant families” and that he is someone “who should be here and given a second chance.”
“Moises made a one-time mistake, but he never went to jail, he complied with everything, he changed his life, he is very active in the community and hasn’t touched a car in three years,” Smyth said.
“Even after doing everything you’re supposed to do, it’s like you can never escape your past,” she said.
A father of three daughters, Martinez, a native of Mexico, has lived for over 18 years in the U.S. A devout Catholic, he serves as an usher at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Greenport, where he participates in different groups.
“He is a hardworking, caring man,” Zaleski said. “When I broke my leg two years ago, he called me while in the hospital to ask how I was and then weekly to ask if I needed anything and to check up on me.”
Of Martinez’s three daughters two have serious medical conditions, Smyth said. The oldest daughter was born prematurely at only 24 weeks, and although she is now healthy, it has been a long battle in a series of medical complications for this family. The middle daughter has a heart condition, and she had to have heart surgery not too long ago.
“It is so sad, this is a family that has gone through so much pain already, we all know each other, and they are good people, truly there when you need them,” family friend Beatriz A. said.
Beatriz also said that the community is devastated and the arrest has prompted a wave of fear among Latino residents.
“Everybody is scared right now, even those who have papers — people don’t know what to do,” she said.
“I can’t imagine the fear everyone in the Spanish community must be feeling. The stress of wondering when ‘they’re coming to get you’,” Zaleski said.
Greenport resident Dinnie Gordon said that she spoke to several families Wednesday and that “most of them knew about the arrest.”
“This is something that has shaken the Hispanic community,” she said. “One incident will spread very widely and terrify a larger sphere and that will linger for a long time,” Gordon said.
Gordon said she had noticed recently how people are changing their habits because of the fear they feel. Either staying indoors, or not driving, the changes are evident, she said.
“Residents are even afraid of getting library cards for their children because they don’t want to expose themselves,” she said.
Advocates say that other people in the area—including Cutchogue, Greenport and Riverhead— have also been detained by ICE and that “there are reports of lCE presence near local delis, near Main Street, and also stopping people on their way to and from work.”
Carlos Masin Macua, who was detained in Greenport on April 13, was on his way to work when an unmarked car with ICE agents also stopped him and detained him.
His fiancee, a U.S. citizen, said that Macua had told her that on the same day, ICE picked up three other men in Riverhead as well. (See related story)
“We are devastated, people need to know what is going on and how ICE is acting,” she said.
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