A traffic stop involving Geneseo Village Police, two undocumented women, an adolescent and five children ranging from ages two months-four years drew criticism from the local community as talks progressed on the protection of undocumented migrant workers in Livingston County.
A police officer stopped the vehicle with the women and children at 6:15 p.m. on Thursday March 23 for speeding. Neither of the women in the car spoke English or had a driver’s license; one had a Guatemalan passport. The officer could not find information on the women in the state computer system and proceeded to call Border Patrol for aid in identification, according to a statement from Village Police Chief Eric Osganian.
“We’re not acting as immigration officers; that’s not our focus,” Osganian said. “We’re local police officers who deal with a college town. Immigration is not one of our issues.”
The traffic stop attracted a large crowd of members from the community who congregated in support of and as allies for the individuals. All of the five children were legal United States citizens.
“I was there to stand in as an ally to the undocumented community and the farm worker community and Livingston County—to stand there in solidarity with them as was the rest of our community,” Village Board Trustee Mary Rutigliano said.
Border Patrol proceeded to detain the family to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Rochester, which attracted a group of protestors. One woman and five of the children were released the following day, while the other woman and her 12-year-old brother were transported to a facility in Buffalo before eventually being released.
This situation shed light on the efforts of the Worker’s Justice Center and on the activists that have been working for years to bridge the gap between the Geneseo community and the local migrant workers on the surrounding dairy farms. Worker’s Justice Center activist Carly Fox and Geneseo students had been meeting with migrant worker families to provide English lessons. Fox and students had visited the family involved in the traffic stop earlier that day.
“So what’s happening in upstate New York, a state that’s immigrant friendly, that has the Statue of Liberty, that celebrates our diversity and our long history of amazing immigrants—so may of them who are attending Geneseo right now—is turning over these hard working immigrants,” Fox said.
Despite previous efforts such as that of the Worker’s Justice Center, many members of the Geneseo community remained unaware of the migrant worker population and the issues they faced as undocumented individuals, according to Worker’s Justice Center volunteer senior Daniel Ruiz.
“I think it’s a big enough issue, specifically in Geneseo where we’re surrounded by dairy farms and the agricultural industry,” Ruiz said. “Sometimes in Geneseo and around on campus students aren’t aware that there is that population out there and we could be helping them.”
In the days following the incident, there was an increase in community involvement regarding policy implementation to protect the migrant workers, rallies held in alliance with the migrant worker community—such as the Emergency Protest/Meeting in Defense of Immigrant Rights, hosted by International Youth and Students for Social Equality on Wednesday March 29—and a call to action, according to Rutigliano.
Rutigliano spoke about the town hall meeting held by the village, where community members offered suggestions for policies to protect workers.
“I hope this sort of mobilized community response turns into an organized community response,” Rutigliano said. “It’s up to us on the local level to decide what we want to do in our community, and with the response people have been showing up to these meetings and participating in support of creating a policy that protects undocumented folks when they’re being stopped for just a traffic violation.”
The village is focusing on creating and implementing policies to specify how to react in these situations. Professor of mathematics Anthony Macula’s policy proposal specifies the need for Geneseo Village Police to avoid entailments with federal immigration agencies unless absolutely necessary and to work to protect the migrant worker community.
“It’s difficult when you have two executive officials, the president and a governorcommcommunicating very different things to law enforcement about how they should be enforcing immigration policy and interacting with undocumented folks,” Rutigliano said.
The Green Light Driving Together Campaign is one campaign that is working to end that confusion by supporting legislation to give undocumented immigrants a legal driver’s license, according to Rutigliano.
“At the state level, there could be structural changes that could prevent situations like these and by passing state legislation that allows people to register for a driver’s license ... I think it will prevent families from being separated,” Ruiz said. “I think it’s just a public safety measure that needs to take place in the state of New York.”
Editor-in-chief Emma Bixler, news editor Annie Renaud and associate news editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.