For U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Field Office Director Ken Genalo, the workday begins like most others – with a full schedule of targeted arrests.
His job, enforcing immigration law, has sent fear coursing through some of New York’s immigrant communities over the last year and a half.
“Due to the new executive order that was put out, there are no longer any classes of exempt aliens,” Genalo said.
One man Genalo confronted, a 52-year old Mexican native and convicted drug offender who illegally re-entered the country after his deportation, was met by ICE agents as he walked out of his front door for work in Asbury Park. His wife and two children were still sleeping inside.
He was convicted on drug charges a decade ago and has made the case that he’s since cleaned up his act.
“I made a mistake. I mean, my whole life is here, ya know,” the detained immigrant said.
This Mexican immigrant is not a good example of an ordinary, hard working, undocumented immigrant with no criminal record.
But the fact remains, ICE is generally no longer extending courtesies, and “kind hearted” discretion, by perpetually delaying detainments and deportations.
That’s a stark departure from the last few years of the Obama administration.
“Anyone that has a final order of removal, that’s been previously removed from the United States and re-entered and all immigration violators that are illegally present in the United States,” Genalo said.
Agent Genalo also addressed ICE’s controversial practice of arresting undocumented immigrants in and around a courthouse.
“A courthouse is not a sensitive location. Sensitive locations, the ICE policy is schools, churches, places of worship, hospitals – ICE does not take enforcement action in these places,” he said. “That’s a policy – it’s not a law.”
ICE agents went to the Bronx Criminal Courthouse a few weeks ago to arrest Aboubacar Dembele, following the African immigrant’s court hearing to contest an assault charge.
“The media does not focus on all of these criminals that we’re going after,” Genalo said, “Rather than focus on the criminals that we’re trying to remove, and that we’re arresting in the community, they’d rather take and focus on the small percentage of the cases that you just mentioned.”
In Jersey City, Genalo’s team made its final arrest of the day – cuffing a multiple drug offender from the Dominican Republic with two deportations on his record.
“I know I made a mistake,” he said.
Jamaican immigrant Andrea Stibo, a legal resident, has mixed feelings about the direction of the nation’s immigration policy.
“You’re not supposed to overstay your visa,” she said.
Like so many legal, documented immigrants, Stibo wonders if there is room in some cases, for compassionate policy enforcement.
“If you coming, and you stay over your welcome, and you don’t commit no crime – no, you got the right to stay,” Stibo said.
When confronted with her contradiction, Stibo responded, “I don’t have no sympathy for criminals.”
Agent Genalo argues those “difficult situations” and “high profile cases,” which often dominate the news cycle, do not represent the bulk of ICE’s actual work.
“Basically, I just want the people in the United States, and New Jersey, to see what we’re out here doing, who we’re going after, and removing these public safety threats and criminal aliens from the United States,” he said.