By Jan Worth-Nelson
Editors’ Note: This story has been modified to include information offered by Valentina Seeley about ICE enforcement actions at “sensitive locations.”
If an undocumented person is accused of a crime in Flint or elsewhere, he or she likely would be deported soon thereafter, even if he or she is found not guilty.
In other words, simply being accused of a crime is enough to get an undocumented person sent back across the border.
That is one scenario faced by undocumented persons described Thursday by Valentina Seeley, community relations officer from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in a presentation to the FACT: Community Partners group under the dome at City Hall.
Seeley, a University of Detroit-Mercy trained immigration attorney, said she has been with ICE for seven months, covering Michigan and Ohio. The department has offices in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Columbus and Cincinnati.
Asked by East Village Magazine what was the fact-based rationale for propelling use of taxpayer resources for deportation efforts, Seeley replied, “We are a law-enforcement agency and we enforce the law. We are directed to enforce the law and so that’s what our officers are doing.”
Asked how many have been deported in Genesee County since Jan. 20, she said she did not have those numbers.
Asked if any terrorists had been apprehended in Genesee County since Jan. 20, she said she did not have the breakdown and could not speak to that.
Asked if any undocumented persons had been apprehended in Genesee County for criminal behavior, she said she thought there had been but could not provide numbers.
Asked if any parents had been separated from their children, she said she could not speak to that and referred EVM to the ICE public affairs office. “Our intent is to minimize disruption,” she said, adding that the agency attempts to work with relevant parties to assist in setting up guardianships where needed.
An email listing unanswered questions and requesting detail has been sent to the ICE public affairs liaison.
In describing ICE process, Seeley summarized a 2011 ICE memo about “sensitive locations,” where she said enforcement actions would not take place, including, with some exceptions:
- schools (including pre-schools, primary schools, secondary schools, post-secondary schools up to and including colleges and universities, and other institutions o f learning such as vocational or trade schools
- churches, synagogues, mosques or other institutions ofworship, such as buildings rented for the purpose ofreligious services
- the site of a funeral, wedding, or other public religious ceremony and
- a site during the occurrence of a public demonstration, such as a march, rally or parade.
The memo states, “Supervisors should take extra care when assessing whether a planned enforcement action could reasonably be viewed as causing significant disruption to the normal operations of the sensitive location. ICE employees should also exercise caution. For example, particular care should be exercised with any organization assisting children, pregnant women, victims of crime or abuse, or individuals with significant mental or physical disabilities.”
Seeley described a new Trump-era program she is working with called VOICE, an acronym for “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement” for victims of crimes committed by undocumented persons.
A handout Seeley provided described the program as a system that “prioritizes the safety of victims who have been affected by crimes with an immigration nexus.”
People who have experienced a crime committed by “removable aliens” can register through a web-based system called DHS-VINE, according to the handout. They would then be notified of the whereabouts and custody status of the alleged perpetrator.
An undocumented person who is arrested for a crime would likely enter the system by being fingerprinted. If they are convicted they generally would be removed from the country after serving their sentence, she explained. If they are not convicted, they still would be deported.
In summary, being accused of a crime would trigger their removal from the country, she said, even if they were cleared of the crime. That assumes the person had exhausted his or her options through the immigration review process, she said.
Aurora Saucedo, coordinator of Latinos United for Flint, addressed the group during Seeley’s presentation to caution against overreacting to what they were hearing.
“Please don’t go away thinking that we have criminals among the undocumented people in Genesee County,” Saucedo said. “Some have committed traffic violations, like every one here, but these are not criminals, just so everyone knows. Understand those undocumented in this community, many are single men who come here to work in the restaurants to help their families — maybe two or three hundred.”
Pressed by an EVM reporter about whether there were statistics about crimes committed by undocumented persons that indicated the VOICE program was needed, Seeley stated, it was a “fairly new” program and that numbers were not yet available.
When the EVM reporter then suggested that the program was not based on facts about the frequency of crimes by undocumented persons, Seeley said, “I can’t speak to that.”
However, she said, citing Donald Trump, “Our president was very clear when he said, ‘we hear you, we see you, and you will never again be ignored’ – that was his message” to victims of violence by undocumented persons.
Victoria Arteaga, who works with Saucedo on Latinos United for Flint, commented she believes existing options within ICE for dealing with crimes by undocumented people were adequate before VOICE was added into the picture.
However, she said, many undocumented persons are afraid to report crimes out of fear that they themselves would be deported.
Seeley went on to offer an overview of efforts of the Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) unit which she explained tackles human trafficking, gangs, drugs, human smuggling, financial crimes, identity theft crimes and matters of national security and cyber crimes.
She said Michigan ranks first or sometimes second in instances of human trafficking, but suggested that could be partly because community members are becoming more aware of it and are willing to talk about it. She said foreign nationals ensnared as victims of human trafficking can sometimes be assisted through to legal immigration efforts if they are willing to cooperate with enforcement operations. She said Homeland Security works to involve local agencies in assisting in catching traffickers and assisting victims.
Enforcement in all areas she described has broadened, Seeley acknowledged, but stated the priority “has remained and will remain on the criminal element.” Most important, especially in the case of human trafficking, she said, is to rescue the victims.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.