A recent raid on a central New York dairy farm by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has sparked a national conversation around immigration enforcement and the Fourth Amendment. On April 18, according to farm owner John Collins, agents in street clothes stormed the farm, grabbed a Guatemalan worker named Marcial de Leon-Aguilar, arrested him, then threw Collin’s cell phone away and handcuffed him when the farm owner asked to see their warrant and tried to take photos. ICE charged de Leon-Aguilar with felony reentry, a crime that can carry a sentence of up to ten years in federal prison.
The incident in the town of Rome became national news, not least because officers from ICE’s Enforcement Removal Operations division (ERO) entered the property without a warrant and manhandled Collins. To critics, the behavior of agents at the farm in Rome show that under the Trump administration ICE doesn’t feel its bound by the protections against unlawful search and seizure afforded by the Fourth Amendment—possibly because those protections don’t matter in civil deportation proceedings.
“ICE is just doing whatever they want to do to remove people,” said Dan Canon, a civil rights attorney and Democratic candidate for US Congress in Indiana.
Agents were within their rights to be on the farm and did not need a warrant, ICE spokesperson Khaalid Walls told me in an email. The agency said that its actions were justified because de Leon-Aguilar’s wife Virginia, who is enrolled in the Alternatives to Detention program, which allows her to stay out of immigration detention while she goes through immigration court proceedings, had missed a number of appointments.
Evidently, a missed appointment means the Constitution no longer exists. To be fair, there’s no question that 5 Supreme Court justices would agree with that statement. Of course, this assumes that ICE is even telling the truth. And there’s no much reason to believe them.
That account of the de Leon-Aguilar family’s behavior doesn’t sound right to Rebecca Fuentes, an organizer with the Workers’ Center of Central New York, an immigrant rights group. According to Fuentes, who is working with the family, the de Leon-Aguilars did everything they had to to make appointments with ICE, including paying more than $750 for a taxi from Rome to New York City when there was no other option to get Virginia to the meeting. That account was confirmed by Collins in an interview recorded by Syracuse immigration activist Lillian Jeng-Wheeler on April 18, the day after the raid. Collins also told Jeng-Wheeler that he took Virginia to meetings himself when needed.
If Virginia did miss any appointments, it’s not clear that that would mean ICE agents didn’t need a warrant. (That question is likely to be decided by a judge.) But politicians in the state capital of Albany have been paying attention. Within a week, Collins was at a press conference with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who announced he was issuing an official letter warning ICE to cease and desist its aggressive tactics and to direct ICE agents “operating in New York to follow the clear constitutional requirements attendant to searches and arrests.”
Cuomo wasn’t the state’s only prominent Democrat to cry foul—“ICE officers should not be allowed to raid private property without a warrant,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote on Twitter—but his letter was notable for how aggressive it was. He called the Rome raid “unconstitutional conduct” and proclaimed, “In New York, the guarantees of the Constitution actually mean something.”
Well, maybe Cuomo and Gillibrand will fight it out for who calls to #AbolishICE first. Because we really need to abolish this agency and start over, with the first order of business protecting the Constitution.