ICE Detains 19-Year-Old Westchester County Student Days Before His High School Graduation

As government crackdown on immigrants continues to escalate throughout the United States, Diego Puma Macancela‘s detention intensifies fears throughout the local community

19-year-old Ossining High School senior, Diego Puma Macancela. Photo Credit: Facebook

Just after sunrise on Thursday, June 8, Diego Macancela’s 21-year-old cousin, Gabriela Macancela, heard pounding on the front door.

“My cousin [Diego] came to my door, and he was knocking, saying ‘the police are there outside, coming for me.’ And he was really scared.”

On the day of Diego Macancela’s high school prom, federal immigration agents arrived to arrest the 19-year-old a senior at Ossining High School. Macancela was spending the night at his relatives’ house because his mother had been detained the night before.

Mayor Victoria Gearity of Ossining, who lives across the street from Diego Macancelas’ relatives, described her shock as she peered across the street: “Men in bulletproof vests with guns [were] running around my neighbor’s property.”

“(They were) saying that if Diego doesn’t come out of the house, they’re going to take all of us,” Gabriela Macancela said. After cowering in one of their bedrooms, Diego went outside and turned himself in. “He was doing it for us,” she said. “He didn’t want us to be taken away.”

According to Gabriela, Diego’s parents were living in New York in 2014 when his mother, Rosa Ines Macancela Vazquez, decided to travel to South America to bring her son north. As they were crossing the border into Texas, both mother and son were taken into custody by ICE. They pled for asylum in the U.S., citing an intense fear of violent gangs at home in Ecuador.

Vazquez and Macancela were ultimately released pending court hearings, allowing them to remain in the U.S. for several years while their case was being reviewed.

According to Rachael Young Yow, a spokeswoman for ICE, Macancela’s June 8 arrest was based on a “final order of removal” issued by an immigration judge on November 16, 2016.

Although Mayor Gearity maintains that local police in Ossining were never notified by ICE that authorities had been targeting that address, Yow insists otherwise. Local police did receive, she said, “prior notification that ICE would be in the local area conducting targeted enforcement actions.”

It has been reported that ICE had given local police the wrong address, causing them to be caught off guard by the recent detainments.

Diego Macancela is currently being held at a detention facility in Hudson County, New Jersey, separate from his mother who is being detained in New York. Macancela is set to be deported back to his native Ecuador just weeks before he is to finish high school, while his mother awaits foreseeable deportation.

Those who have risen up in opposition to Diego Macancela’s detention emphasize the unnecessarily cruel nature of the teen’s arrest.

Members of the Ossining community, including Macancela’s family, Ossining School District, and local leaders such as Congresswoman M. Nita Lowey (D — Westchester/Rockland) and NY State Sen. David Carlucci have unanimously agreed that at a minimum, a temporary stay should be granted for the teen, which would allow him to graduate before heading back to Ecuador.

“All the family, we just want him to finish high school,” said Gabriela Macancela. “We just want that one year to finish high school and he can go back to Ecuador.”

“Given permission by the courts, we would, of course, welcome our student back for his final exams and graduation next week,” said school superintendent Ray Sanchez.

Macancela’s lawyers, who have filed a petition to allow him to complete school, note Macancela’s lack of criminal record simply does not justify such sudden seizure and deportation.

Congresswoman Lowey, who has been in touch with ICE to express her “concern for the well-being of the student and his mother,” agrees. “Young people who were brought to the United States as minors and have no criminal record should never be subject to such a cruel, deportation-first policy.”

Although Macancela failed to leave the U.S. after his deportation was ordered back in November, Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia (D) says the family did not have a chance to apply for legal residency.

“We think it’s likely that he and his family would be on a path to citizenship at this point if they had all the resources,” she told News 12 Westchester. “That’s why we want to see more transparency, more advocacy, and most of all more legal resources being given to people in this situation.”

Similarly, Luis Yumbla of the Hudson Valley Community Coalition said the teen should not have been detained so quickly after losing his case, and should have been given more time to appeal.

“He is a young student. He is hard-working,” Yumbla said. “He has two jobs to help the family, to help himself, and he doesn’t have any previous criminal record or arrests.”

The strong showing of community support for the teen, who Lowey said “was well-liked and admired,” culminated in a peaceful protest held on Monday afternoon in New York City. Dozens gathered in front of Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Federal Building to express their collective outrage.

Carry Cubicles, Cultural Programming Specialist at the Ossining Public Library, stands among the dozens of protestors a rally at Federal Plaza in Manhattan June 12, 2017. Photo Credit: Seth Harrison/The Journal News

Chanting “Si, se puede,” or “yes we can,” and “Diego, escucha, estamos en la lucha,” which means, “Diego, listen, we are in the fight,” protestors called for Macancela to be released so he could graduate from high school.

Jorge Paccha, one of a handful of Ossining High School students who attended the rally, said his classmate only wanted to fulfill his dreams by finishing high school and contributing to society.

Ossining High School students Christian Mora and Kevin Figueroa protest the arrest and detention of their friend Diego Macancela outside Federal Plaza in Manhattan June 12, 2017. Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Seth Harrison/The Journal News
“All Diego wanted was to continue his education and make something of himself,” Paccha said. “He worked hard for his dreams and was such an amazing friend. He showed us that with determination there is no obstacle big enough to get in our way.”

Sign the petition to release Diego Macancela here.

In a small town like Ossining, NY, which has seen an increasing immigrant population for decades, the mere presence of ICE has spread acute fear and anxiety throughout the community.

Mayor Gearity contends that a situation where ICE shows up completely unannounced drastically erodes public trust of local police and jeopardizes the safety of the entire town.

“It’s tough to distinguish between local law enforcement and federal agents,” Gearity said. “If people think they can’t go to police for help, then crimes go unreported and people won’t help with investigations. And that’s what makes the whole community less safe.”

She added: “Incidents like what we saw happen this week actually undermine efforts of local law enforcement to build positive relationships with the immigrant community.”

In light of an increasing number of immigrant arrests throughout the country in the past few months, detainments in towns like Ossining are not isolated incidents throughout the northeast.

A similar fear has come to envelop much of the Vermont’s immigrant farmworker community, whose work on dairy farms is integral to the state’s economic sustenance. On March 17th, two Vermont activists, 24-year-old Enrique Balcazar and 23-year-old Zully Palacios, both possessing no criminal record, were detained by ICE during a traffic stop. Two days earlier, 23-year-old dairy worker Alex Carrillo was detained by outside a Burlington courthouse. Carillo, who lives in Vermont with his wife and young daughter, went to court to attend a hearing for a recent misdemeanor DUI charge, but instead found himself seized by ICE while looking for a parking spot. Protests spread throughout Vermont, drawing hundreds of people to the state’s small towns.

Alex Carrillo, left, with daughter and wife, in 2016, leading a march to urge the release of a migrant worker. Photo credit: Migrant Justice

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) described the heightened fear that has gripped migrant workers in Vermont as a result of these arrests — an intense worry and distrust that now plagues the current residents of Ossining.

“There are a lot of families who have stopped going about their day-to-day business because of the fear that they feel — have stopped going to the grocery store or stopped going to school,” he said.

“Families have begun making emergency plans about assigning custody to somebody else if they were to be arrested and deported.”

Those who united in outrage concerning the recent detainments throughout New York and Vermont, including many state representatives and officials, are well acquainted with the direct connection between recent incidents like the arrest of Diego Macancela and the escalated national effort undertaken by ICE to crackdown on immigrants since the election of Donald Trump.

A spokeswoman for the New York Immigration Coalition, Siobhan Dingwall, called Macancela’s arrest “a clear example of Trump’s frightening and senseless immigration policy in action.”

Known as the “Deporter in Chief” for deporting more people than any other president in history, President Barack Obama deported more than 2.5 million people between 2009 and 2015, with a total of more than 5 million after his 8 years in office. As a comparison, President George W. Bush removed just over 2 million while he was president.

Nevertheless, there is a stark difference between detentions and deportation under former President Obama vs. President Trump. This contrast stems from who is targeted and basic attitudes and goals surrounding the role of immigration in the U.S. Ultimately, the immigration policies born from both administrations have shown to be heavily dependent upon the perceived moral character of immigrants.

In his November 2014 executive action on immigration, Obama directed ICE to focus on criminals, not families. The Obama administration announced it would first prioritize “threats to national security, border security, and public safety,” including gang members and convicted felons, and secondarily, anyone trying to enter the country illegally. 2015 reflected numbers closer to this goal, where 91% of those deported from the U.S. had been previously convicted of a crime and 81% were considered “priority one removals,” but upon closer inspection, a majority subjected to detention and deportation under Obama overall were for minor offenses related to drugs, alcohol, or re-entry. Critics charge that Obama’s “felons not families” promise has deflected the larger truth that U.S. immigration policy has been separating families for decades.

The Obama administration also set up the “DACA” program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which aimed to stop the deportation of undocumented minors brought to the U.S. by their parents. However, Obama also resumed the practice of family detention in 2014 in response to the Central American “child migrant crisis,” leaving a mixed-bag legacy for the Trump administration.

Once in office, President Trump announced a sharp right-turn in immigration enforcement. His executive orders on immigration issued back in January — introducing an expanded border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, a newly expanded force to detain and deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., a pledge to withhold money from “sanctuary cities,” and an expanded definition of who is considered a criminal and therefore, a target for deportation — starkly divert from the Obama administration’s stated intentions.

In even starker contrast is the rhetoric Trump has adopted towards immigrants. In continuing the use of extremely callous, offensive and racially-charged anti-immigrant sentiment that was consistently echoed throughout his campaign — falsely calling immigrants “rapists” and “criminals” (despite the fact that native-born Americans are more likely to commit crimes than immigrants), Trump has stoked the nation’s fears and opened the door for a sharp increase in hate acts and crimes directed at migrant communities.

Attempting to direct detention and deportation efforts toward felons, the Obama administration had at least begun to move away from targeting families and anyone living and working in the U.S. without a criminal history. Although Obama has still deported a record number of immigrants, Trump’s new definition of criminality is so expansive — a “criminal” can be 1) any immigrant charged with an offense, regardless of whether they actually committed a crime; 2) anyone authorities think might be a criminal; 3) and like Diego Macancela, can be anyone who receives a final order to leave the country and has not — that it ultimately ensures a record amount of deportations to occur in the future.

There is already evidence of this: arrests of undocumented immigrants have already increased this year in comparison to last, and that trend is predicted to continue.

As Gabriela Macancela watched her cousin, Diego, be taken away by ICE Thursday morning, she noted a disturbing disconnect between her own feelings and the outward behavior of the officials.

“They were laughing. They couldn’t feel our fear, how we were feeling inside.”

Under the Trump administration, people like Gabriela are more harshly reminded that it does not matter that her cousin grew up here, that he excelled in school, that he looked forward to his future.

This is because the United States’ immigration policy has ensured that simply being undocumented — regardless of one’s reasons for fleeing their native country; regardless of criminal evidence; regardless of whether or not someone is a parent; regardless of whether a person grew up here or not; and regardless of one’s role in their community — has become incriminating in itself.

Despite this week’s announcement from the Trump administration that those currently enrolled in the DACA program will not be targeted for removal, ICE Director Thomas Homan also announced this week that all undocumented people in this country “should be afraid” and that no group is off the table, in comments that migrant rights groups agree have crossed the line.

Suddenly the details that comprise a human being’s life, including the complex, nuanced personal reasons surrounding why one might migrate in the first place, are rendered irrelevant by an administration and a policy that asserts the same justification over and over — that certain people do not belong in the United States. We must respond with a message loud and clear that immigrants are here to stay.

Sign the petition to release Diego Macancela here.

Update 6/23: ICE deported Diego Puma Macancela and his mother, Rosa Ines Macancela Vazques, to Ecuador on Friday, June 23.