On Tuesday evening, the Tompkins County Legislature met to hold its regular meeting. During the public Privilege of the Floor, several residents spoke regarding the current plans to expand the airport, which would require a substantial customs facility.
According to meeting minutes, Legislature Chair Martha Robertson responded with indignation that: “This is not a dangerous facility, this is under our control,” Robertson said. “…There will not be tolerance for ICE coming into this facility, period.” According to the county’s own minutes, Administrator Molino also noted that “there will be no access for anyone without going through security clearance, and that under the Memorandum of Understanding governing the facility the Legislature will be able to terminate for any reason with 90 days notice.”
These appeals were made in response to residents who spoke to the role of Customs and Border Protection in promoting human rights abuses on the border to engaging in racial profiling on buses transiting through upstate. One local art teacher also cautioned our blind acceptance of police state tactics that may start off as benign, but have the potential to evolve into core tools of the police state. A former New Orleans resident, he referenced a partnership with tech giant Palantir in New Orleans where surveillance software was eventually used for a time to facilitate predictive policing. Other residents cautioned an expensive investment in an expansion program that is likely to support elite interests in the county, at the expensive of other dire needs such as homelessness. Similar concerns were expressed at a meeting that took place in January with Airport Director Mike Hall and Tompkins County representative Anna Kelles (who was present at Thursday’s meeting, but did not speak on the issue directly).
In sum, residents urged the county to slow down, and have a public forum to discuss these concerns, which disproportionately impact low-income residents and immigrant communities in the county. Acknowledging the reality that this project is likely to go forward, they also urged representatives to talk in frank terms about how the county can create proactive measures (perhaps through an amended MOU) to limit our collusion with a future where the expanded airport is used as a launchpad to intensify immigration enforcement efforts.
In response, Chair Robertson charged back that residents were engaging in fear mongering (which she likened to White House strategies). Representatives also countered that the reality being painted by concerned residents was a bureaucratic impossibility (given the MOU being crafted), questioned whether ICE would have any real interest in using the new customs facility (given its secure clearance requirement), and seemingly dismissed the need for a public forum. The Chairwoman also reiterated that we are all on the same page fighting against Trump’s immigration enforcement tactics, and urged us not to distract from that broader fight.
The tragedy, therefore, from Tuesday’s meeting is not a local elected body in collusion with federal authorities, as we see in countless jurisdictions across the country that work hand in hand with federal authorities through 287(g) programs. The tragedy is rather a local elected body so blindly attached to the power of a simple declaration of sanctuary that it is unwilling to think critically about what might actually need to happen to work towards that reality. The tragedy is a local elected body that is naïve enough to ignore the realities of immigrant communities on the ground who on a daily basis fall prey to federal agents acting with impunity, and in secret, regardless of flimsy MOUs to which they purport to adhere. These same immigrant communities have had to in turn mobilize to actively resist these acts of state terrorism. There is not one immigrant rights organizer out there who decided to sit on their laurels the day their county declared that it would pursue “Public Safety for All.” It also ignores that airports are sites for immigration enforcement already – a point rightly made by Administrator Molino. They have been a primary tool for stripping our Muslim immigrant communities in particular of their civil rights on a daily basis.
Therefore, our hope – our demand – moving forward is that our elected officials will wake up – not to the hypothetical future that might await us – but to the one that is here now. ICE already regularly ignores “safe spaces,” engages in ruse operations, and yes – in practice tramples all over MOUs it has signed.
To call these concerns “fear mongering” dismisses the day to day reality of vulnerable communities in our midst, brazenly rejects the democratic process in place to help elevate their voices, and is another way in which our “10 square miles surrounded by reality” are a convenient bubble for some, but one with potentially lethal consequences for others.
Town of Dryden