By Daniel Parra, City Limits
It was about 6:20 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, when Andrea’s oldest son woke up to the loud knocking on his window and the shouts of “police open the door!” coming from someone wearing an NYPD jacket and walking down the fire escape.
Andrea—her last name has been withheld—was feeding her youngest son in another room when her older son arrived, frightened, asking if he should open the door to the police. At that point Andrea remembered that the police could not enter an apartment without a warrant, so she told her son not to open the door because it might be ICE.
“He went up the fire escape and hit all the windows from the second floor to the fourth floor,” Andrea says on the phone. “Then he comes down shouts, ‘ICE police. Open up or we’ll knock your door down. I’m the police and I’m coming for you.’ He said it in English first and then in Spanish,” Andrea says.
Andrea and her neighbors counted eight officers. As agents moved around the outside of the building and up to the roof, Andrea exchanged text messages and calls, whispering, with some neighbors. The officers were in the building for almost an hour.
“It was a very ugly experience. Psychologically, you wonder if this is going to happen to us again?” Andrea says.
The next day, a Thursday, agents in NYPD jackets managed to enter the building shortly after 5 a.m., but this time they stayed in the mailbox area, where there is no camera, and were there for about 15 minutes.
After a slowdown on account of the pandemic, federal immigration enforcement activity appears to be increasing again. In California, ICE has captured 125 people between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, and across six sanctuary cities (Baltimore, Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, DC) 172 immigrants were arrested between Oct. 3 and 9.
“In the New York City area alone, officers arrested nearly 50 unlawfully present individuals,” reads the statement. This reactivation comes after the Washington Post reported in late September that ICE was preparing for a surprise operation in so-called sanctuary cities.
A message sent
Some see these operations more as a political messaging campaign than an enforcement operation for ICE.
According to Jorge Muñiz-Reyes, an organizer with Sunset Park Emergency ICE Watch, “One thing I’ve noticed is that immigration is hitting swing states like Pennsylvania, Illinois. Florida. But more alarming things are coming right before the election, and we know it.”
After ICE scaled back its operations in the city during the pandemic, ICE agents have again been seen roaming around neighborhoods such as Sunset Park, Red Hook, Bay Ridge, Fort Greene in Brooklyn where Andrea lives, as well as Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, according to advocates.
On that Wednesday, Oct. 7 alone, the Immigrant Defense Project’s ICE raids map recorded three reports in New York City. As of Oct. 9, the last day the database was updated, there were two more reports, an increase in the number of incidents compared to September when three ICE surveillance reports were filed during the entire month.
Cops or agents?
As can be seen in Netflix’s Immigration Nation, a six-part documentary series on immigration, immigrants sometimes open their doors after ICE agents identified themselves as NYPD.
Now, people like Andrea and her children are on alert and are not opening their doors as easily as in previous years. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” says Andrea. But hunkering down has its costs. “That day [Wednesday] we didn’t work, the children did not go to school. We went to the 88th precinct and they said they had no operations in the area,” says Andrea.
Multiple videos show agents had NYPD jackets and the officers used the fire escape to knock on the windows and ask for it to be opened. Attempted raids reported in both Fort Greene and Red Hook on Oct. 7 in Brooklyn did not result in arrests, activists said.
“ICE agents routinely rely on chaos and confusion through early morning arrests and deceptive tactics,” Genia Blaser, IDP Senior Staff Attorney, said via email. “Sometimes they dress in civilian clothing and sometimes they wear a vest that says ‘Police.’ Often they purposefully pretend to be NYPD officers, tricking those at the home into thinking they are investigating some fake crime or fake suspect.”
In a letter sent to ICE on Oct. 9, for example, Mayor Bill de Blasio described how ICE officials once allegedly claimed to be members of a “narcotics squad” and claimed to be investigating crimes or suspects.
Calls for a stronger sanctuary
The Mayor’s office is asking ICE to stop compromising the willingness and comfort of immigrants to interact with the NYPD on crucial public safety issues. De Blasio demanded that ICE “immediately issue guidance to your agents prohibiting them from stating or implying that they represent the NYPD.”
However, for immigration advocates and people who have been through this situation, a letter to ICE is insufficient.
“The city uses the rhetoric that we’re a sanctuary city,” says Good Shepherd pastor Father Juan Carlos Ruiz, “but it doesn’t invest the resources to be so.”
ICE at the door?
This video was recorded on the morning of October 7 in Fort Greene. Residents say that these men were immigration agents who attempted to access the building wearing NYPD equipment.
According to Ruiz, “having ICE agents on the streets adds up to the pandemic’s cruel dimension. The virus externalizes problems like xenophobia, but having active agents adds more to our people’s vulnerability.”
MOIA: Don’t panic
These actions by ICE in New York, “are to intimidate our people and that is having an impact. This adds to the insecurity, affects the quality of life. Our homes become traps because they go after us there. The criminalization of the immigrant doesn’t stop,” says Ruiz.
Both Ruiz and Muñiz-Reyes believe that the situation is about to get worse as the Nov. 3 elections approach. “We have to use what we have learned, the importance of recording, advocating for immigrants, and uniting with the community. Trump is coming with everything before the election and we have to demand our rights,” Muñiz-Reyes says on the phone.
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) says it doesn’t want the community to panic and it doesn’t want people to retreat into the shadows.
According to Meryl Ranzer, an activist with the group New Sanctuary Coalition, not only the city has to face this issue but also organizations. “This situation [with ICE] is not new to us. We know that ICE is coming and we are prepared.”