Immigrant advocates in Detroit protest ICE action in sanctuary cities

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Three-dozen protesters rallied Sunday in the city over a report that "elite tactical agents" could head to Detroit over the next three months to enforce immigration laws.

The protest, outside of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office, was led in part by the Close the Camps Detroit Coalition, according to its page on the Action Network's website. 

Andrea Geralds, 40, of Macomb Township organized the protest.

"When you send armed paramilitary people into segregated neighborhoods that vote Democratic, bad things are going to happen," Geralds said. 

Organizer Andrea Geralds, of Macomb Township, talks into the bullhorn during the protest.

A Feb. 14 story in the New York Times sparked the protest included information about apparent stepped up enforcement.

"The Trump administration is deploying law enforcement tactical units from the southern border as part of a supercharged arrest operation in sanctuary cities across the country, an escalation in the president’s battle against localities that refuse to participate in immigration enforcement."

The article listed Detroit among other cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Boston and New Orleans where ICE would send additional agents.

Acting ICE Director Matthew T. Albence said the special forces are being deployed in response to challenges stemming from sanctuary city policies.

“As we have noted for years, in jurisdictions where we are not allowed to assume custody of aliens from jails, our officers are forced to make at-large arrests of criminal aliens who have been released into communities," Albence said in a statement.

"This effort requires a significant amount of additional time and resources. When sanctuary cities release these criminals back to the street, it increases the occurrence of preventable crimes, and more importantly, preventable victims.”

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon

While Detroit itself is not considered a sanctuary city, in 2017 Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon sent a memo to his staff, advising that administrative warrants from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials "may not be used to detain a subject" — that a warrant from a federal judge or magistrate would be required. 

The Center for Immigration Studies, which describes itself as "low immigration, pro-immigrant," lists Wayne County as a sanctuary county, citing the memo. Also listed are Ingham, Kalamazoo, and Kent counties.  

Napoleon objected to that label, calling it "unfair."

"(Wayne) is not a sanctuary county," Napoleon said. "Wayne County is following the law. People are released when their time is up."

Napoleon said that when there is an administrative ICE warrant, the Sheriff's Office will alert the agency ahead of the inmate's release.

"If they want (the suspect), be there when he's ready to go," Napoleon said. "We will not hold someone beyond what the court has ordered."

Shine Caramia, 39, of Lathrup Village and Emily Duthinh of the Close the Camps Detroit Coalition wore green Lady Liberty-themed hats.

Protester Shine Caramia, of Lathrup Village, wears a Lady Liberty hat as she talks into the bullhorn.

Caramia was concerned about a show of force described in the Times report, which said that the agents who are being deployed carry stun grenades, have "special forces-type training, including sniper certification" and are usually involved in the arrest of people "who are known to be violent, many of them with extensive criminal records."

"We are talking about civilians," Caramia said. "People who are just going about their day-to-day lives, who are already terrorized. We don't need military force to remove them from our country." 

Duthinh said American and family values are at stake.

"We are a nation of immigrants, and the current administration's policies towards immigrants is dehumanizing people, separating children from families," Duthinh said. "It's contrary to family values and human rights."

About three-dozen people protest in front of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol Station Detroit on E. Jefferson across from the Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly plant, Sunday afternoon, Feb. 16, 2020.

Jessica Prozinski of Ann Arbor said she's concerned that Trump, fresh off a U.S. Senate acquittal in his impeachment trial, feels emboldened. Prozinski is active in a group called Occupy ICE, which in 2018 briefly created an encampment on ICE property in Detroit, according to the Detroit Metro Times. 

"He's trying to terrorize immigrants and terrorize voters," Prozinski said. "He's going on a tear. He's been acquitted by the Senate, and he's learned the lesson that he's above the law, and can do whatever he wants. He's going after his political enemies, and this is one of his ways of punishing them."

"This is a really frightening moment, and I'm not easily frightened," said Elena Herrada, a host on 910AM radio. Herrada once sat on the board of education for Detroit Public Schools. "The military apparatus is being included now and coming into the community to arrest people."

Herradaexpressed concern at the level of force that might be involved in the reported enforcement effort.

"I welcome anybody coming in and moving the drug dealers out of the community, truly, I do," Herrada said. "But that's not what's happening here. There are families, children being terrorized by Border Patrol."

Herrada questioned whether the timing of the enforcement was meant to depress numbers for the 2020 Census, by making people fearful of being counted.

"To render people invisible and voiceless, by this kind of military threat, is fascism," Herrada said. 

More:Activists remain concerned Metro Detroit will be immigration raid target

The government neither confirmed nor denied the reported enforcement action, but touted border patrol's almost-century-long history in Detroit. 

"Since 1924, the United States Border Patrol has been operational in Detroit, to secure our nation’s border while protecting the American people from terrorists and weapons, transnational criminal organizations, and illegal immigration," a response said. "The agents of the Detroit sector are committed to working closely with the community and law enforcement organizations to keep our community safe."

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Detroit News Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed to this report.