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Man stopped by ICE uses 'know your rights' training, prevents immigrants' arrest

"This really isn't about me. It's about what happens when people in general know their rights," says immigrant rights advocate Bryan MacCormack.

A member of a group that urges immigrants to know their rights used some of that training to keep immigration officers from arresting two people who were in the car with him.

Bryan MacCormack, 30, executive director of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement in upstate New York, was captured on video refusing to open his car door March 5 to what an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer insisted was a “warrant of arrest of alien.”

Bryan MacCormick
Bryan MacCormickCourtesy Bryan MacCormick

MacCormack had just accompanied two immigrants without legal status to the courthouse to deal with minor traffic citations. They were in their car about 20 seconds when they were pulled over by ICE agents, he told NBC News.

Before the agent got to the car, MacCormack told one of his passengers to start recording video and reminded them of the rights. The passengers had been told they might get pulled over and were prepared for the possibility, he said.

The video begins as MacCormack is telling an ICE officer at his car window that the papers he has handed him are not warrants for arrest.

“Yes they are, sir, warrant of arrest of alien,” the unidentified officer says to MacCormack as he points to a line on the papers he is holding. The officer's face can't be seen in the video.

“Yeah, warrant of arrest of ... alien, not signed by a judge. It’s not a judicial warrant. I have no obligation to oblige by that warrant,” MacCormack responds.

MacCormack's group posted the video on YouTube on March 8 and issued a news release. The incident was reported in the local media, but it has only just begun to get national attention. An edited version of the video was posted Tuesday evening by NowThisNews.

"This really isn’t about me," MacCormack said. "It’s about what happens when people in general know their rights."

MacCormack had called the group's attorney and put the call on speakerphone. During the exchange, the attorney can be heard telling him to tell the officer the lawyer was on his way.

Despite MacCormack's protests, the officer at the car repeated that what he had in his hand was a lawful warrant under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act signed by "an official with that designated authority." But MacCormack responded that the warrant was not an official warrant under the U.S. Constitution, but rather a Department of Homeland Security order.

He told the officer he’s undergoing Department of Justice-accredited training and has copies of the paperwork the agent was showing him and of a "real" warrant in the car “just so people know not to listen to that.”

The officer then asked MacCormack whether he is familiar with laws governing transporting and harboring of “illegal aliens” in the United States.

"I was nervous and felt fear for the safety of myself and the community members inside of my vehicle. But I was also inherently indignant at ICE’s tactics and their relentless pursuit and practice of detention, deportation and family separation," MacCormack said in a phone interview.

A spokeswoman for ICE emailed a statement to NBC News saying that on March 5, ICE officers were seeking two people not lawfully present in the United States and "an individual interfered with the enforcement action, causing officers to instead depart the scene to avoid further disruption."

The statement included a warning that people who impede ICE officers "expose themselves to potential criminal violations, and run the risk of harming the very people they purport to support." The statement cited a section of the law governing assaulting, impeding or resisting federal officers or employees.

Gloria Martinez, a co-founder of Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, said a lot of the work the group does involves responding to arrests similar to the one attempted with MacCormack.

Often the group gets calls from people who have a family member who was taken by ICE off the street, outside the court or on their way to work, she said. The group has worked to inform people of their rights and teach them how to demand to be shown a warrant signed by a judge.

MacCormack said ICE officers had warrants signed by judges in only about two of 12 cases involving people arrested at court.

Martinez said fear in the community often prevents people from asserting their rights even when they've been trained. ICE officers wear vests that say “police” and that often confuses people too, she said.

“Everyone sees ICE as very powerful and feel they have to do what they say, that they can’t ask questions and they tend to comply,” she said.

Many immigration advocacy and civil rights groups have organized campaigns and workshops to educate people about their rights since President Donald Trump took office and ICE has became more aggressive in making arrests of people who are in the U.S. without legal status.

MacCormack said the incident was the first time he had used "know your rights" training and first he was actually present when ICE arrests were attempted. He's hoping the video helps others who might be arrested or who are witnessing an immigration arrest.

"I want people to feel like anyone, anywhere can do this," he said. "All you have to do is know your rights and you can prevent this from happening to your community members."