Immigration advocates raise concern about proposed federal customs facility

first_imgThe forum was organized by the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition in partnership with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, Multicultural Resource Center, and Ithaca chapters of Democratic Socialists for America and Showing Up for Racial Justice. Legislators Amanda Champion, Anna Kelles, Anne Koreman, Dan Klein, Henry Granison, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Mike Sigler and Shawna Black attended, and Chair Martha Robertson sent a written statement, which Black read aloud. Whatever the legislature’s intent, though, high profile CBP enforcement actions elsewhere have heightened worries for many immigration advocates. An incident at JFK Airport in 2017 made national news when CBP agents reviewed the identification documents of all passengers arriving on a domestic flight in an attempt to locate a person sought by ICE. Kelles suggested Monday that the county could work with community members to draft an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security that has teeth, to exert local control over airport facilities and limit federal enforcement actions. While it is unclear how far-reaching and how binding such an agreement could be, Rodriguez, Black, Koreman, and county administrator Jason Molino have begun discussions on the topic. CBP is responsible for preventing terrorist threats at ports of entry into the U.S., not for enforcing immigration laws. However, in 2018 CBP initiated about 243,000 book-ins to ICE detention facilities, roughly 90,000 more than were initiated directly by ICE agents. That count includes enforcement actions by Border Patrol agents as well as by agents at land, air and sea ports of entry, but speaks to the overlap between CBP and ICE, which are both arms of the Department of Homeland Security. Legislator Shawna Black read a statement from Chair Martha Robertson at Monday’s forum. (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice) Legislator Shawna Black read a statement from Chair Martha Robertson at Monday’s forum. (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice) Where local legislators stand While an airport overhaul is already well underway, some community members want to halt the project until legislators provide assurances that CBP agents will not target immigrants or collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Legislators who attended Monday’s forum said scrapping the customs facility is unlikely, but some said they were open to strengthening an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to limit local collaborations between CBP and ICE. ITHACA, N.Y. – Local immigration advocates have increasingly been voicing concerns about plans to open a Customs and Border Protection facility at Ithaca’s local airport. Those concerns came to a head Monday at a packed community forum. Related: ‘This is a big deal’: Tompkins officially breaks ground on $24 million airport redevelopment project Anna Kelles, who wrote the county’s sanctuary resolution and recent resolution in support of access to driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, said Monday she is trying to find a balance between protecting immigrants in Tompkins and boosting the local economy. In response to commenters who alleged the airport expansion would only serve Cornell and elites, she said, “The story I’m hearing is bigger.” The debate about making the Ithaca airport international centers on concerns that CBP agents will initiate deportation proceedings against travelers without U.S. citizenship, a group that includes people who entered the country without documentation, hold expired or otherwise invalid visas, or who have temporary legal status. Rodriguez called out “the inextricable links between the struggle for immigration justice and economic justice,” saying Tompkins County should refuse to participate in a system that oppresses immigrants for the sake of capitalist gains. “With no federal highways into Tompkins County, our airport is essentially critical,” Robertson said in her written statement. “This will invite an arm of the immigration law enforcement institution into town,” said Patricia Rodriguez, a member of TCIRC and professor of politics at Ithaca College. Tagged: immigration rights, ithaca tompkins regional airport, Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, tompkins county legislature, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Customs and Border Protection County legislators are not of one mind when it comes to immigration. Whatever legislators’ positions on immigration policy, though, they expressed a general consensus Monday that the airport project is too far along to eliminate the planned customs facility. “I want to assure you that the renovation and expansion of our airport will greatly benefit our community without endangering our residents who are immigrants,” Robertson wrote, adding “no human is illegal.” In response to several comments suggesting the money spent on the airport would be better spent on affordable housing, public transportation, or other local needs, legislators were likewise firm in explaining the grant received by the county was earmarked by the state for airport projects. The funds were awarded through Gov. Cuomo’s Upstate Airport Economic Development and Revitalization Competition, and therefore could not be used for other projects. Robertson’s statement claimed “we have seen no evidence that ICE has used any airport in its actions against immigrants.” Likewise, Legislator Mike Sigler said during the question and answer portion of the forum, “To act like this is going to be some kind of ICE center where we’re going to be running out and arresting people is patently untrue.” The implications of a customs facility Legislators say the customs facility would benefit local businesses and Cornell University by allowing visitors, as well as shipments of goods and materials, to land directly from overseas. “Governing well means listening to all sides,” Robertson’s statement read. At Monday’s forum, community members forced a conversation on a complex issue, and they plan to continue it. Mike Sigler, meanwhile, opposed the county’s sanctuary legislation (though he was not present for the vote) as well as the resolution in support of Green Light New York, and said commenters’ claims that the county was neglecting local workers in favor of those who use privately chartered planes was offensive. “To act like the county doesn’t have this stuff on our radar, like we can’t walk and chew gum while building an airport, that’s offensive to me.” “We wish there was more money coming from the feds and the state for affordable housing,” said Anne Koreman, noting that she and other legislators have lobbied in Albany and Washington for that cause. But multiple legislators pointed out that if the state and FAA airport funds didn’t land in Ithaca, they would go to another airport project, not housing. The customs facility at the Ithaca airport would be staffed by one full-time CBP agent, a federal employee under the purview of DHS. The facility would allow international chartered flights to land directly in Ithaca and would open the door for commercial flights between Ithaca and Canada in the future. Possible next steps Related: Letter: Fear mongering and public safety for whom? Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne was frank about the limits of local control, however, as the meeting wrapped up. “We cannot sit here and promise you we can tell (homeland security) no, because we don’t have that power.” Until Congress acts “to lessen the unimaginable power that ICE has,” she said, the county cannot prevent federal agents from initiating deportations locally. Immigration rights advocates questioned whether Robertson’s promises had any teeth, however. The customs facility is expected to be built as phase three, with an anticipated $10 million grant from the Federal Aviation Authority. While bids have not been accepted for the third phase yet, Kelles said Monday that the New York state grant was contingent on all three phases being completed; if the customs facility isn’t built, the county will have to return the $14.2 that was already accepted and allocated, she said. Elsewhere, she said, “the gateway to the world provided by the airport has proved to be a place where rights are curtailed.” The county accepted a $14.2 million grant from the state last June for the first two phases of the project, which will renovate the passenger terminal, improve ADA accessibility, upgrade security features, and add six new gates and three new passenger bridges. The first phase broke ground in October, and a contract was awarded for phase two in early March. Featured image: Rendering of the new customs area planned for the expanded Ithaca-Tompkins Airport.  Local citizens who worry about ICE actions in the county allege the facility is being built to serve corporate and higher education interests at the cost of making immigrants more vulnerable. Advocates plan to continue to push for a moratorium on airport expansion, and closed Monday’s meeting by inviting attendees to an organizing meeting 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 7 at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center to strategize on a path forward. Devon Magliozzi Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at [email protected] or 607-391-0328. More by Devon Magliozzilast_img read more