SARATOGA SPRINGS — For the second time in two weeks, federal immigration agents have arrested undocumented immigrants in the Spa City, contributing to fears of deportation among the city’s diverse workforce — and fears among city leaders that the economy will suffer.
“One would hope the only people who would be pursued by immigration services are people who have been determined to be a danger to the public,” said Chris Mathiesen, the public safety commissioner, after Wednesday's arrests. “One would hope [they aren’t] going overboard to crack down on illegal immigrants who may be here just to work at the race track and in our restaurants.
“They are a part of the economy. These are some of the people who make the economy work in the city.”
Mathiesen emphasized the city Police Department’s hands-off approach to immigration enforcement.
“This is something a federal agency is doing, and we have no control over what they do,” he said. “If they do request assistance from city police, we will provide it, but certainly immigration isn’t a priority of the Saratoga Springs police force.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested 10 undocumented men and one unaccompanied minor in Wednesday's action, an agency spokesman said Thursday.
The arrests followed 16 arrests of undocumented immigrants on May 30. In both cases, the individuals were detained near multiple homes without incident, said I.C.E. spokesman Khaalid Walls.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen said she has reached out to federal and state agencies in an attempt to answer the question, “Why Saratoga Springs?”
“[We] are a community that relies significantly on the hospitality and racing industry workforce, so of course this will start chipping away at our local economy's ability to thrive,” she said.
In the wake of the arrests, the city’s Human Rights Task Force, a 10-member citizens group appointed by Yepsen last month, “will be working diligently to conduct education, town halls, information and awareness raising activities,” she said.
Of the 10 men arrested Wednesday, one is a Guatemalan national and nine are from Mexico, according to Walls, the I.C.E. spokesman. They are between the ages of 20 and 49 and face administrative immigration violations, he said.
Three of the men also face potential federal felony charges for alleged re-entry after deportation. All 10 were being held in Albany County Correctional Facility as of Thursday afternoon, Walls said.
The unaccompanied minor was given a notice to appear in immigration court and was sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement for placement, which is in line with I.C.E.'s policy regarding minors, he said.
Walls would not provide more information, such as the suspects’ names or where they may have been employed, citing an ongoing investigation.
Terry Diggory, who coordinates a “welcoming immigrants” task force at Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church on Circular Street, said Thursday that the arrests are raising the level of fear in the community “unnecessarily.”
“I think that there are other ways of dealing with the immigrant population on an individual basis, rather than this dragnet approach to rounding up as many people as possible,” he said. “Anything we can do to counteract that message of fear is going to be very important at this time.”
The congregation at Presbyterian-New England last month voted unanimously to sign a sanctuary pledge, part of a national movement to support immigrants facing deportation. The church is within a few blocks of Saratoga Race Course, whose backstretch relies heavily on Hispanic immigrant workers.
Diggory said church members, after learning of the enforcement action Wednesday, spread the word through a support network that immigrants were welcome to take refuge at the church, but no one took them up on the offer.
Churches are among the places considered sensitive by Immigration and Customs officials and are typically not subject to searches. Other sensitive locations include schools, hospitals, synagogues and mosques.
“It may be a while before people within the immigrant community understand what a church like ours may be able to offer, and it’s up to them to assess whether they feel safer coming to the church than going to their own homes,” he said.
Diggory said he understands that people living in the United States without proper documentation are “technically” breaking the law, “but they’re not a threat to the community.”
“In fact, quite the contrary,” he said. “They make contributions to the community that, increasingly, the community is going to become aware of because employers are going to find the next morning that they don’t have workers coming in."