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ICE Arrests Highlight National Immigration Debate

Protesters outside the federal building at a rally in January. CREDIT CAITLIN WHYTE / WXXI NEWS

ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) - Immigration officials say they’ve arrested 40 undocumented immigrants across the state, many of whom had been charged with prior crimes.

This announcement highlights a major debate in the immigration policy discussion – who is considered a criminal?
A press release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a lot of numbers -- 40 people arrested in four days; 35 men and five women from 13 different countries -- but one number stands out.

The statement from ICE reads, in part, “almost 30 percent (of those arrested) had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges.”

Thomas Feeley, field office director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Buffalo, says they are committed to removing public safety threats.

"Criminal aliens that reside in New York," he says, "not only prey on our communities, if you will, but they also prey on the immigrant communities, more so, because that’s where they hide, that’s where they reside."

But Carly Fox questions who should be labeled a criminal. She’s a senior worker rights advocate at the Worker Justice Center of New York.

"When we think of criminal," she says, "we think of someone who has burglarized, or assault, or any of these crimes that put people in harm’s way."

The ICE report lists individuals convicted of crimes ranging from assault to theft to driving under the influence, but Fox says some of those convictions can be immigration-related.

"It could be that someone attempted to get across the border, got caught, and then maybe they came back, was able to get across, and then that’s considered the crime," she says.

"The crime is that they come into this country to work, essentially, but we get to label them a criminal."

Many of the people arrested in this latest targeted enforcement action by ICE have not been charged with a prior crime, but are in the country illegally. Feeley says if people are caught in New York state without the proper documentation, they will be charged with a felony.

"New York state is not going to be a safe haven for criminal aliens," he said.