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An Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.

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ICE Raids Continue in Staten Island Despite Global Pandemic

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Wuilver and his family were trying their best to practice social distancing last Wednesday.

The 24-year-old, who worked as a waiter on Staten Island, had been home since the city forced bars and restaurants to close in an attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have little kids, so we weren’t trying to take them out or anything, so from that day we didn’t go out at all,” said his partner of five years, Denise, a 26-year-old lifelong Staten Islander.

But a day after he stopped working, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents woke them up when they began banging on the door of their Grymes Hill apartment at around 6 a.m.

The raid was one of at least three raids that took place on Staten Island on March 18 — just hours before ICE announced it would “adjust its enforcement posture beginning today” and that its “highest priorities are to promote life-saving and public safety activities.”

ICE will review deportation actions on a case by case basis, including a review of an individual’s criminal and immigration history, according to ICE spokesperson Rachael Yong Yow.

Yow said of three Staten Island arrests that day: One man had previously been convicted of illegal entry into the U.S., while the other two have criminal charges pending in local courts, including at least one case of assault.

‘Creating a Threat’

State court records indicate that Wuilver, who arrived in the U.S. from Mexico as a child in 2009, has a pending assault charge in Richmond County Supreme Court. Denise said she’s concerned about his safety after learning that staffers and detainees in some detention centers have tested positive for COVID-19.

“They shouldn’t be doing this. It should be the least of their worries,” said Denise, who didn’t want her last name published. “There have been people who have tested positive inside the detention center and they’re not going to get the same treatment that they would get out here.”

Advocacy groups told THE CITY that they feared more raids would lead to further distress in immigrant communities and cause unnecessary potential exposure to the coronavirus.

“This is creating even more of a threat to people who are in detention centers,” said Yesenia Mata, executive director of La Colmena, a Staten Island-based community center for domestic and day laborers. “We say we’re in a national crisis. But if they’re still detaining people and putting them in detention centers where they’re not getting proper medical attention or testing, how are we going to stop this type of crisis?”

ICE’s Discretion

When asked Monday if the arrests were in line with last week’s guidance, Yow referred to ICE’s Mar. 18 statement.

It indicates ICE will “focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.”

In other instances, the agency “will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.”

In short, ICE is going to continue to arrest and detain individuals in certain cases.

The arrests on Staten Island last Wednesday include a Graniteville resident, Diego, who was working as a day laborer, having arrived from Mexico a decade ago.

His family said ICE agents began banging on their door at 5:30 a.m. for roughly half an hour and said that they were police, according to Carlos Vargas, an organizer with the immigrant-advocacy nonprofit Make the Road New York.

Denise told THE CITY that she spoke to Wuilver on the 18th, right after he was arrested, but didn’t speak to him again until Tuesday, when he called her from a detention center in upstate New York. Though she lives with family, Wuilver’s job was their main source of income.

“Right now when people are struggling to make ends meet, they’re literally targeting bread- winners,” Vargas said. “And they might have something outstanding in court, but in this country, you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

’It’s So Stressful’

The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) has received reports of at least 14 ICE arrests or sightings in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, Suffolk and Westchester County (New Rochelle) since March 6 through late last week. Agents were wearing vests that said “FBI” in two of the recent arrests, the group said.

Immigrant and legal rights groups have called on U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to completely stop raids, release detainees and suspend the immigration courts.

“[They] just don’t care about what’s happening in our communities,” said Genia Blaser, a senior staff attorney with IDP. “As the state and city and communities are being urged to sort of shut down to self quarantine to social distance, they’re still continuing to go out into neighborhoods.”

For now, Denise says she’s focusing on helping their two children, ages 5 and 7, with remote learning.

“It’s so stressful,” Denise said. “The kids are staying home and my son is always asking for his dad and when he’s coming back. I had to tell him that he had to go away to work for two months away from here.”

Denise, who was talking to THE CITY by phone, paused before adding, “Now he just heard me say he got arrested.”

Have you seen ICE in your neighborhood? Do you know someone who has been picked up? Let us know. Email us at coronavirus@thecity.nyc.

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