A simple traffic violation has added fuel to an ongoing conflict over the role that police in Springfield should play in immigration enforcement.
A group of activists and a city councilor believe that Springfield police violated a City Council resolution forbidding police from detaining an undocumented person at the request of federal immigration officers without a federal warrant during the arrest of 30-year-old Otoniel Gomez on Thursday, Feb. 15.
Springfield Police Department spokesperson Ryan Walsh claims that the ordinance wasn’t violated, and to say that Gomez was treated differently would be “inaccurate and untrue.”
“While going through the booking process, Mr. Gomez was fingerprinted,” a statement from Walsh read. “Anyone who is arrested goes through the same process. Those fingerprints are sent out to various agencies to confirm a person’s true identity and to check to see if they are wanted by any other agencies. That process is no different for anyone who is arrested.”
Gomez was arrested for operating a motor vehicle without insurance at 6:20 p.m. on Carew Street in Springfield. Gomez was arrested and arraigned this morning in Springfield District Court.
It is what happened between his arrest and arraignment that most disturbs Andrea Schmid, 23, a friend and co-member of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, a community organizing group that helps low-wage workers and immigrants in the Valley.
Schmid said that while waiting for Gomez to be released on $40 bail, she and another member of the group, Gabriella dellaCroce, were informed by a Springfield Police sergeant that Gomez’s fingerprints had been sent to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and they were waiting to hear back. When pressed further, the sergeant reportedly said, “If ICE tells us to hold him, we will.”
This would seemingly be in violation of The Safe Springfield Community Resolution passed on June 5, 2017, by the City Council. The resolution was aimed at making sure residents are not afraid to go to the police when necessary and reaffirms that the Springfield police will not detain immigrants for ICE without a federal warrant.
“ICE seems to be targeting immigrants from Central America,” said Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez, referring to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Councilor Gomez is of no relation to Otoniel Gomez.
DellaCroce, a member of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, called Councilor Gomez to seek his assistance. DellaCroce described Councilor Gomez, who is running for state Senate in Hampden County, as “a fantastic supporter and a real champion of immigrant rights.”
According to Councilor Gomez, the court system in Springfield has been contacting ICE when they have arrested someone who is undocumented and “making it known when they can pick them up.”
Otoniel Gomez said this was the second time that ICE had been called on him. The first time was in January 2017, he said.
Gomez said that he wants other immigrants to know they’re not alone when dealing with the judicial system. “People are here to help and are there for them.” He added, “They call us criminal, but we’re not. We work, pay taxes. We‘re not criminal.”
Gomez was released on his own recognizance and will be back in court on April 18 for a pre-trial hearing.