As rumors of roundup swirl through immigrant community, ICE officials deny a crackdown

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By Tuesday, Feb 14 News  8 Comments
David Scribner
Brooke Mead, program coordinator for the Berkshire Immigrant Center in Pittsfield. She is concerned that rumors 'can do a lot of damage.'

Great Barrington — Unconfirmed reports shooting through Facebook last week that six undocumented Great Barrington residents were arrested by immigration authorities and taken away from their Stockbridge Road apartment coincided with reports of an uptick in similar roundups across the country.

The posts that shot through Berkshire County social media last week are part of the national panic over reports of an upswing in federal immigration enforcement and harsher measures. The same thing happened in Boston last Saturday, for instance.

And news outlets across the country are trying to figure out whether President Donald Trump’s policies have truly stepped enforcement up, or if it just looks that way.

Boston-based U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) public affairs director Shawn Neudauer told The Edge that any arrests made by the agency are business as usual and unrelated to new policies. While he didn’t confirm it, he said he was unaware of local arrests last week.

“This is the first I’ve heard [about arrests] in Great Barrington,” he said.

Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh said, as far as he knew, no one was arrested in Great Barrington last week.

“As a professional courtesy, [ICE] will always swing by and let us know,” he added.

Walsh also said it was possible there was “some super secret thing they did on their own.” But in his experience, he said, he is kept in the loop.

On Facebook, Berkshires Activate and others had spread word of arrests in Great Barrington, nearby Hudson, New York, and Canaan, Connecticut.

ICE officials across the country are saying the agency’s work lately is routine: arresting people who are undocumented or deemed dangerous to national security, who have been tagged as criminals in the agency’s system.

But a tweet last Sunday by Trump indicates that he may be taking credit for the surge in raids following his “campaign promise” to deport undocumented residents nationwide.

“The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise,” he tweeted Sunday. “Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”

But Neudauer said the agency is “out in the community every single day, there are arrests every single day. This is nothing new.”

“We don’t ‘round people up,’ ” Neudauer added. “We don’t do random arrests. It’s targeted enforcement, meaning we’re looking for specific people.”

In an email he clarified that the agency is looking for “criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation’s immigration laws.”

He further said that national reports have exaggerated the number of routine arrests.

“There are numerous false and blatant lies going on about ICE on social media,” he added. “It’s spinning out of control.”

Some immigration advocates, particularly in California and New York, say the upswing in ICE activity is real, and the agency’s actions more aggressive than in the past.

The Immigrant Defense Center has published an “ICE Raids Toolkit” to “defend against raids and “community arrests.”

Berkshire Immigrant Center's program coordinator Brooke Mead with former State Sen. Ben Downing, during a Senate presentation of a citation to the Immigrant Center.

Berkshire Immigrant Center’s program coordinator Brooke Mead with former State Sen. Ben Downing, during a Senate presentation of a citation to the Immigrant Center.

But other advocates are waiting a bit to see what pattern emerges over the next few weeks, and are busy gathering information. Brooke Mead, Program Coordinator for the Berkshire Immigrant Center in Pittsfield, said she wanted to withhold comment for the time being given all the rumors and panic.

“We want to make sure we’re giving out good information,” Mead said.

Others who work with foreign nationals say while they aren’t sure whether ICE activity has increased, fear certainly has.

Fear has made Pittsfield-based immigration lawyer Michele Sisselman a very busy woman lately.

“It’s frightening,” Sisselman said. “And everybody is scared, including U.S. citizens.”

Sisselman, who has practiced immigration law for more than 20 years, said the rumor mill is working overtime.

She said she had heard of only one person who was detained in Great Barrington last week; she is uncertain about why, including whether it was immigration-status related.

“But that doesn’t mean that there have not been more [arrests] subsequently,” she noted.

In a previous story, Berkshire Immigrant Center’s Executive Director Hilary Greene had said that ICE does work that is important to keeping communities safe, like rooting out human trafficking and removing dangerous criminals from circulation.

Sisselman says immigration advocates and ICE have cultivated a “good rapport.” She expects a continuation of this, but also said “we may see more enforcement actions in the future.”

“They have a job to do and we, as a community, must protect ourselves and our neighbors against abuses of Constitutional and federal law,” she added.

Those reports of arrests in Great Barrington came just one week after a group of residents added a sanctuary trust policy to the town warrant for voters to consider in May at Annual Town Meeting. While the town’s policy already states that it will not collaborate with federal officials to enforce federal immigration law, the citizens petition takes that up a notch by stipulating that police procedure officially include prohibition of “ICE detainers,” a second, documentation-related detention of a foreign national who has been otherwise released from police custody.

The local reports of ICE raids last week said they began in Hudson, New York, on the morning of February 7. Another reported raid that day was in nearby Canaan, Connecticut.

Mead said her organization was taking a measured approach to community fear, and said generating it was not helpful.

“Rumors can often do a lot of damage,” she said.


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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Scott Christianson says:

    This is intolerable. Secret arrests without notification of local law enforcement? “Business as usual”? “Targeted arrests”? Round ups”? –for which there is no notice or statistics? This kind of activity wasn’t tolerated in MA in the days of the Fugitive Slave Law and it must not be tolerated now. I wrote a book about this stuff that went on back in the 19th century. We cannot have unidentified men in black SUVs grabbing people off our streets without any public acknowledgement or adherence to the rule of law. That kind of behavior is what the Gestapo did, what Stalin did. What Putin does. That’s what done by death squads in autocratic countries such as the Philippines, whose ruler Trump has praised. Nothing remotely close to that can ever occur here. Who do these officials think they are? This is America. This is Great Barrington. I held many criminal justice positions in NY and I must say that secret kidnappings are not allowed. To hear that somebody was grabbed on my street rouses me to speak out. Local law enforcement must be informed if ICE or any agency is making an arrest. There must be legal authority and transparency. Without accountability we invite abuses. Rumors become rife. This community, this state, this country, must not allow this kind of activity or the possibility of this kind of activity. Citizens must demand answers!

    1. Steve Farina says:

      If local law enforcement, as well as town government, has gone on record to say they will not inform ICE of potential illegal immigrants when arrested, and will not cooperate with enforcement of federal law, then what makes you think ICE should or would inform the town if federal enforcement of federal law is occurring?
      Seems this communication should be bidirectional.
      Although I have not seen verification that this happened here in GB, it was something I suggested could happen in previous comments about this issue.
      Btw, if this did happen here it is NOT “secret kidnappings” it is federal law enforcement, with the detention and potential deportation of people in this country ILLEGALLY!

      1. Bob Jones says:

        What is legal is not necessarily moral. This has been an ongoing conversation and struggle since the founding of our country. Pushing back, resisisting… Welcome to America.

      2. Sage Radachowsky says:

        Agree with Bob Jones 100%.

      3. Steve Farina says:

        Fortunately, the government is not responsible for enforcing morals! They are, however, responsible for enforcing laws.
        There is a legal way to enter and a legal way to stay in this country, and there are ILLEGAL ways to do both.
        Entering or staying ILLEGAL is also not of the highest moral value.

  2. Sage Radachowsky says:

    I would like to note that ICE has not been fully straightforward in their public communications. There has been a marked increase in their raids and activities in the last couple of weeks, and they have misrepresented things in their public statements, to the point where such was called out by the California Senate Leader Kevin de Leon. Google him and see his statement about the lack of truthfulness from ICE spokespersons about the raids. I don’t trust them to be fully honest in their public communications.

    1. Bob Jones says:

      Agreed, Sage. BTW, it might be noted that we Americans have a rich history of “breaking the law,” particularly when it comes to social and political issues. Women marching for the right to vote, abolitionists and runaway slaves, civil rights demonstrators, MLK, Rosa Parks, lawbreakers all. We live in a better country for their efforts. Given what we’re faced with today, perhaps a little more law breaking is in order. Feel free to turn my name in if anyone would like to appoint themselves “block warden.”

    2. Madeline Gutierrez says:

      Hi Sage!
      I think we may be related.
      On my mother’s side.
      I remember that I had cousins in Danbury.
      I’ll have to track you down another place some time!

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