Lurching Toward A Lawsuit?: NY Governor's Strong Words For ICE

By Andrew Soboeiro

Of all the actions the Trump Administration has taken on immigration, its decision to sanction mass raids has arguably been the most disruptive. With the president’s imprimatur, ICE has been rounding up undocumented immigrants all over the country, often breaking onto private property in the process. This practice has attracted criticism from not only property owners and advocates for immigrants, but also many state and local officials, who feel the agency is usurping their authority and disrupting local communities. A recent announcement by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggests that these officials may be ready to go beyond criticism and take concrete action against the raids.

Cuomo’s Complaints

On Wednesday, May 25th, Cuomo sent a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement demanding that the agency “cease and desist” its raids within New York State. In the letter and an ensuing press conference, the governor enumerated a number of objections to ICE’s activities, namely that they:

  • Undermine Immigrants’ Rights: Citing his responsibility to promote “the furtherance of our democracy,” Cuomo objected to ICE’s tendency to question, apprehend, and detain immigrants without warrants. He also claimed that the agency was targeting immigrants who had spoken out against its activities, warning that “the targeting of political dissent is a direct strike at the core of our democracy.”
  • Harm Citizens: Besides worrying about its treatment of immigrants, Cuomo expressed concern over how ICE is treating US citizens. He cited the example of a farmer named John Collins from Rome, New York, whose farm was the target of an ICE raid. When ICE agents entered his property without his permission and began interrogating an immigrant whom he employed, he tried to film the scene with his phone. The agents took his phone and threw it to the ground; they then handcuffed him and threatened to arrest him. Cuomo sees this as a violation of Collins’s constitutional rights and worries other citizens may be at risk.
  • Endanger Communities: Cuomo called attention to the fact that ICE frequently fails to inform local law enforcement before conducting raids. He argued that this could lead to dangerous confrontations between the agents and local police. If ICE breaks onto someone’s property, that person reports a break-in to the police, and the police don’t know the intruders are ICE agents, the results could be deadly.

It is not clear what legal force Cuomo’s letter has, if any. But the governor has threatened to sue ICE should the agency fail to comply. If he follows through on this threat, it could lead to a showdown over the rights of state and Federal authorities to control immigration enforcement.

Assessing the Impact

A few days before announcing his retirement, ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan gave an official response to Cuomo’s letter. He claimed Cuomo was “grandstanding,” suggesting that the governor merely wants to score political points and will not follow through. There may be some truth to this accusation. Cuomo is up for reelection this fall, and faces a potentially serious primary challenge from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon. If he wants to shore up his support in a state that is highly critical of Trump’s immigration policies, sending a stern letter to ICE might do the trick.

Even if Cuomo is trying to score political points, that doesn’t mean he won’t follow through. If the New York governor does take ICE to court, he could create a stronger legal foundation for states to challenge the agency and limit its activities. Given that many state and local governments have adopted sanctuary policies and other pro-immigrant statutes, Cuomo will find many allies in a lawsuit against ICE.

Among these allies will be immigrants and progressives from North Carolina, who have had their own problems with ICE. The agency has been disrupting North Carolinian communities, including in a series of raids two weeks ago in which 40 people were arrested. Progressive groups would be happy to take concerted action against these activities. Governor Cooper may also lend his support, as he has largely opposed the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.

Besides the letter and lawsuit threat, Cuomo has taken concrete steps to protect immigrants and limit ICE activities. In particular, he issued an executive order that prevents immigration agents from making arrests in state facilities. He has also promised that the budget for the 2019 fiscal year will provide an extra $10 million to fund expedient legal counsel for undocumented immigrants who are apprehended by ICE. These efforts should go a long way toward defending immigrants’ rights, even if not accompanied by a climactic lawsuit.

For more information on immigration laws, policies, and conflicts across the country, contact Vigoda Law Firm today at 919-307-7817.