Is recent immigration enforcement a new federal edict?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A rally Friday on the city’s west side was another sign of reaction to what many believe is a new approach to immigration enforcement from President Donald Trump.

And while federal officials are denying any change in policy, some in the local faith, labor and legal communities said two busts in the Buffalo area just this week shouldn’t be considered coincidental.

“We will stand and resist because we honor the dignity of all,” said Justo Gonzalez II, the pastor at Pilgrim-St. Luke’s.

Friday’s event came in the wake of two immigration busts this week.

The first happened in Hamburg on Monday evening, when 23 people were detained for allegedly being in the country illegally. Those men from various countries were working at a construction site off Southwestern Boulevard, whose general contractor is DGA Builders of Rochester. Members of the company declined comment when reached on Thursday.

Two days later, another nine were charged with immigration violations after a bust on Grand Island. It’s believed the men were living and working on the island, and at least one of them was a convicted sex offender who had been previously deported from the United States.

Ralliers say the recent activity is the result of a new edict from the White House, one they will not only protest, but work to actively subvert.

“We want to make it clear that anyone who fears Border Patrol or ICE or any fear of being threatened or stopped will always find a safe and sacred space within our midst, and our doors will be open,” Gonzalez said.

Anjana Malhotra is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo Law School, who specializes in immigration and civil rights.

“The CBP has not been involved in extensive interior enforcement. This is new,” she said. “(President) Obama had a significant deportation program. And he prioritized how (the Department of Homeland Security) DHS should enforce immigration law. … This is an American tradition.”

However, Malhotra said it sets a “troubling” precedent, especially since both of the Buffalo-area busts were the result of tips from the public followed by CBP investigations.

“It opens up really troubling questions because it invites community members to just act on their own suspicion,” she said. “There’s serious concern that DHS has instructed its agents, or allowed its  agents to act outside the law, to act outside the constitutional rights of all people.”

Officials from Customs and Border Protection have said multiple times this week any recent action has nothing to do with the new administration. And they’ve been adamant there’s no new presidential directive. The laws on the books remain the same.

Malhotra isn’t buying it.

“It’s another way that Trump has moved immigration policy from evaluating cases according to our national priorities and shared values to a dragnet, to an indiscriminate dragnet,” she said. “And it’s really troubling.”

Early Friday, the White House denied a report that up to 100,000 members of the National Guard would be mobilized to help enforce immigration laws.

Officials from the CBP said the same, and that they had “not been provided with any information regarding the use of NG personnel to address immigration matters.”

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