Geneseo police chief: Officer called Border Patrol on family to check passport

March 24, 2017 06:00 PM

The arrest of a family in Geneseo sparked protests at a Border Patrol station in Irondequoit overnight.

It all started with a traffic stop. Police in Geneseo stopped a vehicle for speeding. There were also children in the minivan who were not in safety seats. We wanted to ask the police chief why his officer called in the Border Patrol on a traffic stop.

Friends at the scene said the family was coming from church. A Geneseo student started shooting a video that captured the Border Patrol pick-up truck that arrived first. We asked the Geneseo police chief: Why did his officer call the Border Patrol?

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"So his purpose of his call to the Border Patrol was purely for identification," Chief Eric Osganian says. "It wasn't for immigration purposes -- that's not our role."

The chief says the minivan was clocked going 46 miles an hour down this hill towards Main Street -- the speed limit is 30.

The traffic stop happened on South Street next to some college dorms. Chief Osganian says, "The officer spoke to the driver; the driver couldn't speak English."

"The driver provided the officer with a Guatemala passport," he adds.

Chief Osganian says his officer called Border Patrol to confirm the passport.

Brean: "Do you think your officer did the right thing?"

Chief Osganian: "We're quarterbacking it. I don't know what I would have done differently."

"He's trying to do his job," the chief says. "The purpose wasn't for any sort of deportation or anything like that. He just wanted to confirm who he had driving the car."

But the video shows the family being put into Border Patrol SUVs. At that point, at least two dozen people along the roadside were protesting the arrest. Many yelled to police that the children were American citizens.

"They're U.S. citizens!" a member of the crowd shouted. "Yes, they're U.S. citizens! USA!"

Evan Goldstein is the SUNY Geneseo student who shot the video. "No matter what the traffic violation was, to escalate it to detention and possible deportation is just obscene," he says.

At a protest on Friday in Rochester, activists rallied against the arrest as well as the immigration system in general, which they say is broken. An immigration attorney told us it is like Prohibition, easier to break the law than follow.

"Part of the problem now is we don't know what the process is because it has changes, or rumored to be changed in the last two or three months," says Jeremy McLean, staff attorney at Worker Justice Center.

McLean is an attorney working on the case involving the Livingston County family taken into custody by ICE. Emotions boiled over as five young children between the ages of two-months-old to four-years-old were detained along with two adult women, who are sisters, and their 12-year-old brother.

One of the woman and all five on the youngest children were released Thursday night. The other sister and brother were taken to Buffalo for questioning but were released on Friday.

McLean says it is hard to know for sure what happens when people are taken into custody.

"That is a little more unclear now," says Jeremy McLean, staff attorney. "When people who don't have any criminal history, any contact with law enforcement in the past, they would pay a bond or be released and go through some kind of immigration proceedings. At this point, we don't know who the priorities are for deportation and who aren't."

We asked why the adult women would not apply for citizenship.

"There is no legal way for you to do that," says Carly Fox, Worker Justice Center. "The only legal way to come to the United States legally is if you marry a citizen. So we know that really won't happen for someone living in another country easily. If you are solicited of someone who is a citizen here and you are the mother, brother or child of them and those lines are sometimes decades long waiting for the paperwork to be processed. There is something called non-immigrant visas where you can come in and work seasonally."

As for what is next for the Livingston County family, we asked their lawyer if the illegal immigrants taken into custody risk deportation. Even though they have been released, he wouldn't comment on their specific case, but say it is always an option.


Berkeley Brean and Amanda Ciavarri

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