A New York activist who successfully prevented the arrest of two undocumented immigrants traveling with him earlier this month says his case underscores the importance of understanding constitutional rights.
The efforts of 30-year-old Bryan MacCormack, executive director of the nonprofit organization Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, went viral this week after video showed him refusing to open his car door for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers attempting to detain two of his passengers.
MacCormack was pulled over March 5 while driving two community members from a local courthouse in Hudson, N.Y., where they were handling a traffic violation, to their attorney’s office.
“We believe they were waiting outside of the court in their vehicle,” MacCormack, a Hudson native, said in an interview Thursday. “They watched us leave and proceeded to follow us.”
Cellphone video from one of the passengers shows MacCormack pushing back against an officer by stating he did not need to comply with his orders if they weren’t issued by a judge.
“Those are not warrants of arrest, sir,” MacCormack tells the officer.
“Yes, they are, sir, warrant of arrest of alien,” the officer retorts, appearing to read the document he was presenting, which he later called “lawful.”
MacCormack responds: “Yeah, warrant of arrest of alien — not signed by a judge. It’s not a judicial warrant.”
MacCormack then says that the document was authorized by the Department of Homeland Security and does not allow officers to enter a home or vehicle to make an arrest unless someone opens the door for them.
“It’s not a warrant under the Constitution of the United States . . . you have no jurisdiction over me, over a citizen. I’m the driver of this vehicle,” he adds.
The officer then asks whether MacCormack is familiar with section 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which prohibits the smuggling, harboring or domestic transportation of illegal aliens, according to the Justice Department.
Hudson police were called to the scene, but the officers and ICE agents eventually backed down after intervention from MacCormack’s attorney and other local officials, MacCormack said.
MacCormack has since said he doesn’t believe he violated the U.S. statute, writing in a news release that ICE was trying to “intimidate me into relinquishing my rights.”
“I was literally driving two individuals to court, providing them with a ride,” he told The Washington Post, adding that his attorney is prepared to represent him if ICE presses charges.
In a statement to The Post, an ICE spokesman said an individual “interfered” with the efforts of deportation officers, who sought “two unlawfully present foreign nationals.” That interference caused the officers to “instead depart the scene to avoid further disruption.”
“Individuals who intervene in or seek to impede ICE officers while they are carrying out their mission recklessly endanger not only the enforcement personnel, but also the individuals targeted for arrest and potentially innocent bystanders,” the statement read. “Those who engage in such actions expose themselves to potential criminal violations, and run the risk of harming the very people they purport to support.”
But MacCormack says that warning is an effort to “kill resistance and kill people exercising their rights.”
He added that he’s familiar with the warrant the ICE officer presented and has seen it used multiple times in the cases of local community members. The Columbia County Sanctuary Movement provides educational services on how to properly identify a judicial warrant of arrest. He said there is a “real lack of services” for the sizable population of legal and illegal immigrants in the area. There isn’t a single immigration attorney in Columbia County, he added.
MacCormack said he hopes the incident sheds light on the benefits of people knowing their constitutional rights — not just immigrants. He said it’s important to note his passengers also exercised their rights; they did not provide identification, open the door or respond to questions directed toward them — all things the sanctuary teaches as part of their “know your rights” training.
The group’s website features instructions and learning materials in English and Spanish for those who may find themselves in similar situations.
“I believe that the more people who exercise their rights, the stronger those rights become, and the less easily they’re violated by authorities,” MacCormack said. “Especially in a time of aggressive enforcement of immigration laws — unjust immigration laws, in my eyes.”