A video posted on social media Friday shows a group of federal immigration officials detaining a protester at a George Floyd rally in New York City. One of the officials is seen wearing a vest labeled "HSI police," a division of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"ICE is showing up at NYC protests," the Immigrant Defense Project, the rights organization that posted the video, tweeted. "On Wednesday, this man was walking with protestors when 5 agents jumped out of a van with guns drawn & threw him to the ground."
Terry Lawson, a supervising policy attorney at the project who spoke to the man detained, told NBC News that the man was in the neighborhood where he lives and works when he saw the protests and decided to join them. Then, several officers, most in plainclothes, "basically swarmed on him" as he was walking with the protesters.
"The pattern that we see in this case is similar to patterns we've seen in ICE arrests outside of courthouses," Lawson said. "They didn't identify themselves, they terrified him, they were pushing their guns at him and they never said why they targeted him."
A spokesman for HSI said the incident was not related to immigration, but that the agents believed the man had a weapon and could be a threat to public safety. No arrest was made after no weapon was found.
The Immigrant Defense Project blurred the identity of the man before posting the video "because he's afraid about job insecurity" and putting his "financial livelihood at risk." However, the group identified him as a U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent.
The organization said agents held the man "on the ground with 3 guns pointed at him, cuffed him, illegally searched him, tried to search his phone, and accused him of having a gun."
After holding the man for 10 minutes "looking for something to justify their attack on him," the group said, all they found was a military veteran identification.
"When they realized he was a military vet, they didn't let him go immediately and they kept him handcuffed," Lawson said. "He suffered multiple bruises and only when their supervisor arrived did they realize they really had no reason, they were required to let him go by their supervisor."
"It's just really concerning to see ICE out on the street, grabbing somebody who's peacefully protesting before the curfew, who was doing absolutely nothing wrong," she said. "The use of force also seems very troubling and the fact that he's a man of Puerto Rican descent is really concerning because it raises questions about racial profiling."
In a statement to NBC News, HSI stated: "HSI has the authority to make criminal arrests as needed. HSI Special Agents identified a person considered to be in possession of a weapon and a threat to the public safety. No arrests were made. This was not immigration related."
ICE confirmed on Monday that they've already deployed personnel, resources and special response teams to support local, state and federal law enforcement officials across cities where people are protesting police brutality after Floyd's death on May 25.
Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said Tuesday that more than 600 officers from ICE, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were deployed to help Secret Service, Federal Protective Service and other federal and local law enforcement efforts in Washington.
"Increases in policing and the deployment of ICE agents across the country in the face of COVID-19 means that immigrant New Yorkers are more vulnerable than ever," the Immigrant Defense Project said on a Facebook post Wednesday.
ICE, CBP and other immigration enforcement agencies have said they don't carry out immigration enforcement at protests, because they're considered part of ICE’s sensitive locations policy, meaning enforcement actions should generally be avoided. They only have the authority to conduct criminal arrests if deployed to a protest.
ICE's sensitive locations guidance says only "that enforcement actions at sensitive locations should generally be avoided." Some of the sensitive locations include schools, public demonstrations and courthouses. But that doesn't mean they're off limits, Lawson said.
"In fact, we've been pushing very hard for a law in New York called the Protect Our Courts Act to require that ICE agents not be allowed to make arrests at courthouses unless they have had judicial warrant," said Lawson.
ICE could make immigration arrests outside these courts "unless we have legislation that prevents them from doing so," she added.
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