Our last issue featured an interview I conducted with music editor Katie Cusack of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. The major focus of the 40-minute interview was Sheehan’s position on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Albany’s role as a sanctuary city under Sheehan has become a national topic as President Donald Trump has lashed out at sanctuary cities. Sheehan has now twice appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight to discuss the issue.
I found it curious that during our wide-ranging interview Sheehan never really homed in on the human cost of ICE’s ramped-up enforcement under Trump. There are numerous examples of ICE taking brutish measures–arresting people at court, separating families, and leaving prisoners in inhumane conditions.
I spoke to Sheehan on Monday of this week to clarify her stance on the federal agency.
“I think what we’re seeing is appalling and it was going on even under the Obama administration,” said Sheehan of ICE’s tactics. “What we’re seeing now is people who have been here following the law for years, yes they may have a civil violation, but many people are trying to get legal status, ICE is showing up and they are being arrested and deported. My frustration with ICE is they changed their priority so that everyone is a priority. Immigration needs to be fixed on a federal level. It has to be frustrating for the people who work for ICE as well because what we see is not working. I know parents are not sending their kids to school because they are afraid ICE will be there waiting for them to deport them.”
I asked about rising concern that ICE is using inhumane and fascist tactics designed to spread fear and splinter families.
Sheehan seemed to hedge:
“ICE has done a lot to deport people who have committed violent crime who are here illegally. And I don’t believe taxpayers should pay for them to be here. I’m not trying to absolve ICE at all, but I also don’t want to dehumanize them because they’re people doing a job.”
Sheehan’s answers on ICE have been very nuanced. She appears to want to be a national leader on the issue and to challenge conservative thinking on immigration but her concern appears to be more about the costs of local government having to enforce immigration law.
Sheehan could just as easily used a nuanced argument to condemn the leadership and tactics used by ICE that lead to chaos and unrest in immigrant communities. Albany’s immigrant communities deserve a mayor willing give her assurance that the city wants to serve them, but who will forcefully call out blatantly un-American behavior when she sees it. ICE has behaved as a Gestapo under Trump. Sure it was bad before, but there is no denying that under Trump, ICE has adopted fascist tactics.
“Those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust, regimes where those who have long lived in a country may be taken without notice from streets, home, and work. And sent away,” wrote Southern District Judge Katherine Forrest in her order releasing prominent immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir from ICE custody. ICE detained Ragbir during a routine court visit.
“We are not that country; and woe be the day that we become that country under a fiction that laws allow it,” Forrest wrote.
I appreciate that Sheehan has a number of balls in the air, has a number of constituencies to serve, and is trying to lay out the details of a particularly complicated issue. Her understanding of issues and unwillingness to deliver the sort of meaningless platitudes most of our area politicians rely on should be commended.
However, I think it would do the City of Albany, the country and Sheehan herself a world of good to speak bluntly, directly and from the heart on this issue. I bet even some ICE agents would thank her. Because they, like the rest of America, have witnessed the agency morph into something that should send fear into the hearts of anyone concerned with government overreach. ICE must be confronted and brought to heel.