Immigration stories are among the most challenging to report. For people who face the threat of deportation for themselves, their families, or their workers, the risk of being publicly targeted is often too great to warrant speaking to a reporter.
Combine that fear with a federal agency that routinely denies or flat-out ignores requests for information, refuses to release the names of people they have detained, and makes it almost impossible for detainees to contact even their own lawyers, and you have a perfect recipe for secrecy.
The shadowy, byzantine and often-punitive immigration system that anyone not born in the United States must navigate in order to live here is not new. But Trump’s election, and the escalating bitterness of the national debate on immigration, have cast a brighter spotlight on the activities of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the long arm of immigration law.
Across upstate New York, recent crackdowns by ICE have caused public outcries in communities where immigrants live and work. In some places, immigration has become a hot issue in local politics. Ulster County’s new sheriff, Juan Figueroa, defeated incumbent Paul VanBlarcum last November after a campaign in which immigration issues reached a fever pitch; a feature story in the American Prospect listed Ulster County among several local sheriff’s races where the job went to a candidate opposed to cooperation with ICE.
The state’s top agriculture officials are worried that increased enforcement is on a collision course with New York State farms. About half of the state’s farm labor force is undocumented, state agriculture commissioner Richard Ball estimates.
When they are reported at all, the stories of ICE arrests can be chilling in their lack of detail. In this story from the Syracuse Post-Standard, Ball tells a reporter about an anonymous farmer, describing the arrest of an unnamed worker:
Ball said he gets phone calls a few times a week from farmers telling of how ICE has taken their workers. Sometimes, it’s as if the workers simply disappear.
A few days ago, Ball said, he got a call from another farmer near Rome. The farmer told Ball that family members had dropped a long-time worker off at Walmart to do some shopping. When they returned, he was nowhere to be found.
“He never came out,” Ball said.
Arrests In The Spotlight
A few of the recent local arrests made by ICE have been widely publicized in Hudson Valley communities. In 2017, Kingston restaurant owner Leo Santos left for Mexico voluntarily under threat of deportation, leaving behind his business, his 13-year-old son, and a community that rallied behind his effort to stay. Last December, another familiar face in the Kingston restaurant world, Anchor head grill chef Juan Carlos Alonzo Vasquez, was forced into “voluntary departure” to Mexico, prompting a community effort to fundraise for his legal expenses. In November, New Paltz resident Matthew Rojas, a fixture on the local nightlife scene and a “Dreamer” whose parents brought him to the US as a child, was picked up by ICE agents outside of town court, where he had appeared to answer to drug possession charges.
One of ICE’s most high-profile arrests in the region was made just a few weeks ago: Luis Martinez, a New Paltz construction company owner who came to the US from Mexico at the age of eight. Martinez was arrested by ICE on January 16.
Martinez’s arrest, and the community’s response to it, will be the subject of one of The River’s first deep-dive feature stories. Here’s our reporter Michael Frank on the story he’s working on:
The Face of Domestic Terrorism
Luis Martinez is the father of three kids, and throughout his life he’s refused to live in the shadows. He’s been a part of the New Paltz community since he was a child, and as he grew up, he invested, personally and financially, in the town. He put down roots, founding an influential business, the Lalo Group, opened a restaurant, La Charla, a year and a half ago, and significantly funded the Chamber of Commerce as well as local charities. Martinez isn’t perfect; he was arrested for a DUI four years ago. Yet he’s also done the right thing, by helping the police try to finger the gang member who murdered his brother, Jesus, in 1999.
In theory, that should help Martinez qualify for a special U Visa, which was created in 2000 precisely to help law enforcement attack gang violence. It offers witness protection to those who would work with police to stop the kind of extortion and human trafficking crimes the Trump White House repeatedly points out when they mention MS-13. Instead, DHS under Trump is now targeting visa applicants like Martinez, because the very paperwork they complete makes them easier for ICE to find and arrest.
This story will trace Martinez’s life, and his contributions to the Village of New Paltz, and will also showcase how New Paltz is fighting back, with citizens rallying around their own, with everyone from clergy, to students who attend classes and play sports with Martinez’s children, speaking out against this form of domestic terrorism.