Letter to the editor.

ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition Working Group and other community groups organized a public forum on March 25 at the Tompkins County Public Library to express our concerns about the many worrisome implications of the airport expansion project now underway.

At the forum, we shared that when we began to look at this issue back at the end of 2018, it was hard to get specific answers from the Tompkins County Legislature as to the next steps in the process of approving Phase III of the expansion project (i.e. the construction of the 5,000 square foot Customs and Border Protection – CBP facility). Phase III is the last phase of the project and will cost $5 million, out of a $27.6 million airport expansion. The facility is NOT for commercial international aviation but to serve private businesses and chartered flights.

We have requested information as to when the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Department of Homeland Security/CBP and Tompkins County would be signed and have made it clear we do not think that the language of the boiler-plate MOA shared with us by airport director Mike Hall was reassuring. In our opinion, it leaves too many loopholes for potential abuse by CBP. For instance, there is language in it that suggests that CBP would invite outside personnel “for internal control verifications, special enforcement activities, and training, etc., as may be necessary.” County officials say that the MOA as-is gives the Legislature a degree of control because there is a provision at the end of the MOA about terminating the agreement for any reason within 90 days.

Although we do not question the willingness of the Legislature when it provides assurances that any Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Border Patrol immigration enforcement presence would cause the county to terminate the agreement, we think that the county must be more explicit in its commitment. This part of the MOA’s language needs to be categorically defined so as to clearly address the important concerns we have raised about how the present language is, in essence, an open invitation for federal authorities under the proven-oppressive Homeland Security to increase their presence in this county. We think these concerns are justified in general but are particularly relevant given the current uncertain climate of immigration-related detentions, deportations, and family separations, and should not be so easily dismissed under the pretext of being a component of the Legislature’s promises for future action. Moreover, the assertion (gathered from consulting with airport directors in other places nationwide) that there is no real interaction between ICE and CBP officers at airports is not accurate or credible. We need more concrete terms and understanding of procedural practices.

For these reasons, we have proposed the following amendment to this passage in the final page of the boiler-plate MOA shared with us: (amendments in bold)


This agreement may be terminated by either party upon 120 (NOTE: not 90?) days written notice for any reason. “Tompkins County will withdraw from this agreement if any of these specific conditions are met, though not exclusively these:
a) CBP Customs Enforcement stationed at Ithaca Airport conducts immigration enforcement activities outside of the facility;
b) CBP Customs Enforcement stationed at Ithaca Airport harasses or discriminates any individual in the facility;
c) ICE or Border Patrol agents conduct immigration enforcement at the Ithaca Airport Customs facility;
d) CBP Customs Enforcement coordinates in any way with ICE or Border Patrol agents for the purpose of immigration enforcement either within or outside the facility;
e) It is determined that data collection activities by CBP are being used to put individuals at risk.”

We also proposed the addition of a Community Monitoring/Legal Observer position to this project, for assurance of compliance. The TCIRC Working Group awaits a response that is sensitive to the urgency of these issues.

While many of us believe the airport expansion poses a threat to the safety and protection of immigrants, many of our supporters and/or the Legislature’s constituents object to this project for other or additional reasons. People oppose the project for environmental reasons. We continue to ask, as we did at the forum, who will benefit? From what we know so far the main beneficiaries appear to be Cornell’s corporate arm and corporations, some with disturbing connections to cyber-surveillance. Relatedly, why are so few individuals empowered to make such a huge local decision without a well-publicized forum for public questions and comments?

We see this project as an integral part of broader local government’s planning and development concerns, especially giveaway tax relief for developers of luxury housing and upscale businesses. It is only right to challenge those projects that exclude the public in decision-making and that enhance the benefits of a few at the expense of the many, including those most vulnerable among us.

– Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition Working Group

Read the MOA template airport director Mike Hall shared with TCIRC-WG:

UFA MOA Template by Devon Magliozzi on Scribd