An immigrant rights activist in New York stopped Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents from arresting two community members by simply reciting his constitutional rights.
Bryan MacCormack, executive director of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, had been escorting two undocumented immigrants on March 5 to Hudson City Court, roughly 130 miles north of New York City, when the incident occurred.
As they were leaving the court, ICE deportation agents pulled over MacCormack’s car with the undocumented immigrants inside, according to a statement released by CCSM, an immigrant rights advocacy group.
The ICE agents then surrounded the vehicle and approached the driver’s side window to ask MacCormack for identification, which he said he produced. One of the agents allegedly produced a “warrant of arrest of alien,” a document authorized by the Department of Homeland Security.
This type of document directs federal immigration enforcement agents to arrest the person named on the warrant, but because it is not a judicial warrant ― meaning it was not a court-ordered warrant signed by a judge ― the ICE agents may not demand entry into a home or private space to make the arrest.
MacCormack, understanding the difference between the two warrants, refused to allow the ICE agents to enter his car and detain any of the passengers inside.
Cellphone video taken by one of the passengers captured part of the exchange. The community members inside the vehicle, knowing their rights, did not oblige when the agents asked for identification and instead remained silent, according to MacCormack.
“I have no obligation to oblige by that warrant,” MacCormack can be heard telling the ICE agent.
The agent continued to press MacCormack, telling him the document was a “lawful warrant” under the authority of the Immigration and Nationality Act. But MacCormack pushed back, “Signed by a judge?”
“You have no jurisdiction over me as a citizen,” he told the ICE agent. “I’m the driver of this vehicle.”
The ICE agent “implicitly threatened” MacCormack by asking if he was aware of section 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a) of the the Immigration and Nationality Act, which prohibits citizens from knowingly transporting undocumented immigrants, according to CCSM.
MacCormack told HuffPost that he does not believe what he was doing qualified as a violation of that act.
MacCormack can be heard in the video telling the ICE agent that his attorney was on his way to the scene. ICE then called the Hudson Police Department, which dispatched two cars to the scene, according to CCSM’s statement.
Upon arriving on the scene, MacCormack’s attorney reiterated to the ICE agents that they did not have a judicial warrant and therefore could not continue to hold his client. So MacCormack drove away and the ICE agents and Hudson police dispersed shortly thereafter, according to CCSM.
ICE said in a statement following the incident that the agents had departed the scene to “avoid further disruption.”
“Individuals who intervene in or seek to impede ICE officers while they are carrying out their mission recklessly endanger not only the enforcement personnel but also the individuals targeted for arrest and potentially innocent bystanders,” according to ICE’s statement. “Those who engage in such actions expose themselves to potential criminal violations and run the risk of harming the very people they purport to support.”
MacCormack drove his passengers to a local interfaith church, where they were able to enter into sanctuary. Though officials with warrants may arrest undocumented immigrants in religious centers of worship, they rarely do. ICE has said it generally avoids arrests in “sensitive locations.”
The community members, who, MacCormack told HuffPost, have lived in the U.S. “for a while,” remained at the church as of Wednesday afternoon while they continue to fight their case for legal status.
MacCormack said he hoped video of the exchange, which went viral this week after being shared by Now This News, will open people’s eyes to what happens when an individual or community exercises their rights.
“I hope when people see this video, it goes beyond just learning about their rights,” MacCormack said. “I hope by this video spreading … more people are able to learn and find the courage and confidence to replicate this type of action.”
For more information on knowing your rights, click here.