SODUS — Local and state immigrant advocates say a program created by Mexico’s Consul General representatives in New York to help migrant workers throughout the state is a welcome sign of support.
As part of this "Consulate on Wheels" initiative, Consulate Carlos Sada met migrant workers in Sodus last December to learn more about the plight of Mexican nationals in New York, said spokeswoman Jimena Monjarás Guerra.
Additionally, the consulate took information from those visits with workers as well as activists and law-enforcement officials to Cesar Perales, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s secretary of state, said Julio Garcia Torres, the consulate’s press officer. Included in that information was a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union about U.S. Customs and Border Patrol immigration raids on trains and buses.
"Consul Sada expressed concern for the difficult situation of Mexican migrants near the border with Canada (particularly the counties of Onondaga, Cayuga, Monroe, and especially Wayne), both stemming from labor conditions and due to the frequency of detentions related to an individual’s immigration status on the part of state police and local police," Garcia Torres stated in an e-mail to El Mensajero Católico.
The fact that a consulate is taking an active interest in how its county’s citizens are being treated in the U.S. is beneficial to the migrant workers, said Andrea Callan, an attorney and statewide advocacy coordinator for the NYCLU.
"I just hope the consulate will be able to raise enough attention and be another voice to raise some attention to what’s happening to migrant workers in upstate New York," she added. "It can only be a positive."
Having the consul’s support of NYCLU’s report — which looked specifically at detainees at the Rochester train station — also is noteworthy as the in-depth examination of the raids in upstate New York is the first of its kind, Callan noted.
"The transportation raids also serve as a window into the practices of an agency that, although charged with policing the border, abuses its authority through its unprecedented reach into the interior of the United States and the use of aggressive search and seizure procedures that do not comport with standards and expectations for domestic policing or interior immigration enforcement," states the report at www.nyclu.org/files/publications/NYCLU_justicederailedweb_0.pdf. "While the full extent of the Border Patrol’s interior enforcement practices remains unknown, community groups have documented abuses of power that extend beyond the transportation system and into our state’s towns and villages. These concerns include complaints of Border Patrol agents wrongfully stopping, questioning and arresting individuals, including United States citizens, and engaging in improper enforcement practices in close collaboration with state and local police."
While the Consul General representatives respect the work of such U.S. federal agencies as Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they have concerns about the report’s findings, Garcia Torres said. Teresa Gallagher, a Border Patrol spokeswoman, said the agency has not issued a statement in response to the report.
"It concerns us that ‘transportation raids’ that occur far from the Canadian border be conducted in a manner which is inconsistent with policies announced by President Obama, which seek the removal of individuals who represent a threat to national security and of persons with a criminal record, instead of mothers and fathers going about their daily lives," noted Garcia Torres.
During the meeting in Sodus with the Consul General, worker after worker told Sada of similar incidents, explained Peter Mares, an outreach worker for Catholic Charities of Wayne County. Callan said that the NYCLU has also collected anecdotal evidence of Border Patrol agents riding as passengers in New York State Police vehicles.
"That is something we’re concerned about," she said.
"People are getting detained left and right," remarked Mares, who also manages La Casa, a program that offers temporary housing to local residents. "(Workers) want something done and they don’t have anyone to hear them."
Hearing those stories gave the Consul General a unique perspective and made his office more aware of what’s happening to Mexican citizens in such rural areas as Sodus and Marion, said Alina Díaz, a local activist who has subsequently met with consul representatives in New York City.
"I had previously sent them … a set of reports and statistics complied by several organizations about the living conditions of migrant workers, not only in New York but also on a national level," she added. "But I think it’s one thing to read reports and descriptions and another to personally hear Juan or Maria talk about their lives with tears in their eyes."
In addition to making a personal connection with such workers, the Mexican consulate also seeks to increase cooperation with all levels of government in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — which are under its jurisdiction — for the benefit of its country’s citizens, noted Garcia Torres. The Consulate on Wheels units have visited more than 60 cities and also have issued more than 200,000 passports and high-security consular identification cards.
"Police abuse and practices such as racial profiling and harassment undermine the trust of any community in law enforcement and its institutions, shattering their harmonious coexistence, to the detriment of society at large," added Garcia Torres. "As we fulfill our obligation to provide consular assistance to all Mexican nationals, we will continue to expand the communication channels with federal and local authorities in the three states in our jurisdiction."