In two separate but similar incidents this month, federal immigration officials in Minneapolis and Kansas City, Mo., broke out car windows to arrest undocumented immigrants who had reentered the country after being deported.
The incidents raise questions about whether agents with the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement are adopting new and more aggressive tactics, as some immigrant advocates suggest, or whether some immigrants mistakenly believe they’re safe from arrest while inside their cars.
On Monday, July 15 in south Minneapolis, ICE agents identified 38-year-old Yobany Castro-Romero, originally from El Salvador, according to the agency. Castro-Romero previously was convicted of a misdemeanor in Hennepin County in 2007 and deported in 2009. Court records show he was convicted of soliciting a prostitute.
Shawn Neudauer, a spokesperson for ICE, said that Castro-Romero refused to get out of the vehicle and ignored “police commands.” Agents tried to negotiate with him for about 15 minutes, Neudauer said. An agent busted out the back window of the vehicle and removed Castro-Romero, who is currently in ICE custody.
In a social media post after the Minneapolis arrest, the advocacy group Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee noted that Castro-Romero was “most likely following the ‘know your rights’ advice that has been given to the community and did not open his car door.” The organization declined an interview request.
The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee shared this image regarding an arrest by ICE officers of Yobany Castro-Romero on July 15.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey posted online after the incident that Minneapolis police officers were not present during the arrest and that the department wasn’t notified that it was going to happen.
Maria Elena Gutierrez, an organizer with Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, who regularly teaches immigrants about their legal rights, said they’re advising people not to answer their door at home unless there’s a warrant. But she said if the person is inside a vehicle on a public street, the same advice doesn’t apply.
“I’m not telling people, ‘Don’t open your car door,’” she said. “Because the police [can] open the door when you are under arrest.”
But she understands why some immigrants who are at risk of deportation may be confused. She said some have been seeking advice from videos online, which don’t allow them to ask follow-up questions like they do during in-person presentations.
Gutierrez said these ICE arrests targeting people in their vehicles seem to be a new trend, though the agency declined to say whether that was the case. She believes ICE officers are having a difficult time getting into homes and private spaces, where people are asking to see a warrant and refusing to answer the door.
A recent immigration enforcement operation targeting about 2,100 people resulted in just 35 total arrests, according to the Associated Press.
“They have been more aggressive, and I feel like the reason is because people know their rights,” Gutierrez said. “ICE has been to their homes, they just don't open the doors.”
In the Kansas City, Mo., incident on Monday, ICE agents stopped a vehicle carrying 32-year-old Florencio Millan-Vazquez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. An ICE spokesperson said Millan-Vazquez voluntarily left the country in 2011 but returned illegally just five days later under an assumed name.
After being pulled over this week, Millan-Vazquez refused to exit the vehicle or comply with commands from the agents or local police, according to Neudauer, the ICE spokesperson. After 25 minutes of negotiation, an officer broke out the window and Millan-Vazquez was arrested. His girlfriend and two young children were in the vehicle at the time of the arrest. They were bringing their disabled 7-year-old child to a doctor’s appointment, Millan-Vazquez’s girlfriend told the Associated Press.
That incident was streamed on Facebook Live and described as “heartbreaking and gut-wrenching” by U.S. Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri.
St. Paul immigration attorney Kara Lynum said she hadn’t heard before about ICE agents smashing car windows to make an arrest. But she said the tactic could have a chilling effect on undocumented immigrants willingness to travel to places like work, doctors offices and schools.
“I think of it as their campaign of creating fear from the top level out in D.C.,” Lynum said. “So that even people that aren't targeted as part of these operations are living with the fear of being picked up by ICE because they see it on the news so much.”
Lynum expects the men involved in both incidents to be deported without seeing an immigration judge because, according to ICE, they’ve both been deported before and returned to the country without permission. That fast process leaves little time to prepare lawsuits challenging any alleged constitutional violations.
Lynum still recommends that immigrants ask to see a warrant when confronted by ICE agents.
“They should still stay calm, they should still know that they have rights,” she said. “We never recommend that someone resist arrest. So then at that point you would be hoping to fight this battle in a court case.”