High School Student Held by ICE Is No Gang Member, Home Country Declares

A June 15th letter from the Ecuadorian Consulate in New York City to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) explains that a 19-year-old Ossining, New York, high school student who was arrested the day of his school prom was never involved in gang activity in his native country. ICE rejected Diego Ismael Puma Macancela’s request for asylum in the U.S. in part because it believes he was a gang member in Ecuador.

Puma Macancela “has no criminal record in Ecuador,” Linda Machuca, Consul General of Ecuador in New York, wrote in the letter. “Additionally, based on our evidence, he is not now, nor ever has been affiliated to the gang Sombra Negra or any other gang in Ecuador.”

Puma Macancela was arrested one day after his mother was detained by ICE. According to lawyers for the family, mother and son came to the United States in part to escape gang activity. The family is represented by attorneys from Neighbors Link Community Law Practice, a Westchester-based immigrant rights group. Neighbors Link filed its second stay of removal on behalf of the teen on Friday, June 16. The letter from the Ecuadorian government formed the basis of Neighbors Link’s stay request.

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ICE denied the first stay of removal earlier in the week. Carola Bracco, executive director of Neighbors Link, told local media, “ICE has denied his stay of removal, and the basis for this denial is that they are accusing Diego of participating in a gang that he was actually fleeing from.”

In 2014, Rosa Ines Macancela Vazquez, Diego’s mother, left New York for Ecuador to bring her son to New York. The two were arrested in Texas after they crossed the border, but they were released from custody and allowed to remain in the U.S. pending a court decision. The pair filed for asylum, and Diego stated that gang activity was a major reason for his request for help from the U.S. In November 2016, a court denied the request for asylum and ordered the mother and son to be deported.

On June 7, Rosa Ines Macancela Vazquez was detained by ICE, per the November 2016 court order. Diego spent that night with his relatives in Ossining, when ICE agents arrived the morning of June 8.

Turned Himself in to Protect His Family

In an interview with radio station WNYC, Gabriela Macanela, a 21-year-old relative with whom Diego stayed, said that her cousin turned himself in to protect the family: “Immigration agents pounded on the door at 7:30 a.m. Afraid that the rest of the family would be arrested, she said, Diego turned himself in. ‘He was doing it for us,’ she said. ‘He didn’t want us to be taken away.'” The cousin told WNBC News in New York that the family hid in fear as ICE agents surrounded the home, but then Diego stepped outside.

ICE officials are instructed to notify local authorities when an operation is to take place. Ossining’s mayor, Victoria Gearity, told local media that she learned about the ICE raid by watching it take place across the street from her house.

The mayor and ICE have released competing statements to the media about the arrest. ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow told NBC News in New York that officials were notified: “Contrary to a statement issued from the Ossining Mayor’s Office, local police received prior notification that ICE would be in the local area conducting targeted enforcement actions.” Mayor Gearity rejected that claim and added, “Incidents like what we saw happen this week actually undermine efforts of local law enforcement to build positive relationships with the immigrant community. That jeopardizes the safety of the whole community.”

The arrest attracted much media attention last week. The news and commentary show The Young Turks devoted a segment to it:

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Nita Lowey, who represents the lower Hudson Valley in Congress, asked for a stay of removal on behalf of Puma Macancela in a letter to the acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan. In it, she wrote that the arrest will “have a chilling effect” on immigrant community-law enforcement relationships: “A productive and contributing member of our community, his only crime was being brought to the United States as a minor by a parent. ICE should focus its enforcement action on felonious adults, not children and students.”

Diego Ismael Puma Macancela and his mother were detained in two different ICE facilities after their arrests ten days ago. Last week, the son was transferred to Orange County Correctional Facility in Goshen, NY, where his mother is being held, after Rep. Lowey intervened on his behalf.

ICE’s Year of Arrests

For years, a felony conviction was deemed sufficient cause for ICE to order a deportation of an immigrant.

Numbers only provide a snapshot, a sense of the size of the story ICE’s year of arrests. In February, soon after president  Trump announced a desire to deport three million illegal immigrants in his first year in office, ICE started to conduct what it called “targeted enforcement operations” across the nation.

Sources report that in a five-day operation in February, some 680 individuals were detained under ICE’s new mandate. In March, another 729 were arrested in actions across the country. The total numbers are not yet known. The number deported has not been publicized.

On February 28, in a speech to a joint session of Congress, President Trump declared: “As we speak tonight, we are removing gang members, drug dealers, and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak, and as I promised throughout the campaign.” During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump pledged to deport people whom he referred to as “bad hombres.”

Many of those arrested in February and March and the months since were not detained in the action-movie showdown that the president wants citizens to imagine. Many were arrested in ICE’s offices as they made their regularly scheduled check-in appearance with their case officers. Diego Ismael Puma Macancela was arrested in front of his family and in front of his city’s mayor, who then took Macancela’s side against ICE.

In March the Austin American-Statesman set out to learn the identities of those detained by ICE in Austin, Texas, and to confirm how many had criminal records. Of the fifty-one arrested in Austin in February, twenty-three had criminal records (one had been convicted of homicide) but the other twenty-eight had no records of criminal history of any kind. They “had built quiet lives and stayed out of trouble,” and “they worked in construction. They cleaned houses. They did odd jobs. They had families and children.”

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It is a small sample, fifty-one, but each of those twenty-eight individuals in Austin had a life disrupted in a profound and unhappy way for no reason other than a president’s exaggerated belief about the dangers of life in our modern world and that belief being granted the weight of law.

Featured image via WNYC, Twitter, and family of Diego Macancela,.