After advocates rallied Wednesday at both the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) headquarters and the office of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, they were met with a tight-lipped county leadership and a statement from NCPD that seemed designed to obfuscate the truth and distract from their role in the deportation of a beloved Long Islander for a traffic infraction.
Dozens gathered in Mineola to support Denis Guerra Guerra, the 30-year-old Salvadoran Long Islander who was deported last week following a traffic stop for an alleged failure to signal.
Emily Torstveit Ngara, Esq., co-counsel representing Guerra Guerra, hoped that the event would foster a “frank, open, and intellectually honest conversation” on the issue.
“Sadly, that did not happen. Instead, NCPD chose to become defensive, dig in its heels, and release a statement intended to besmirch Mr. Guerra Guerra’s name,” said Torstveit Ngara, who is also the director of Hofstra University’s Deportation Defense Clinic.
Leaders in the advocacy community pressed the NCPD for the reasoning behind Guerra Guerra’s arrest, which for all intents and purposes, is increasingly exemplifying the deputization of the NCPD as an arm of federal immigration enforcement.
The stated cause of the arrest remains hazy, but police issued a statement on Aug. 25 saying that Guerra Guerra was in possession of a utility knife he used for work. But, as it did not meet penal code requirements, the charge was later voided at the station.
“Tellingly, though the statement mentions a knife, the possession of which did not constitute a crime, and other alleged criminal acts, it never asserts that Mr. Guerra Guerra was arrested for any of these crimes. That can only mean that Mr. Guerra Guerra was not arrested for any crime,” Torstveit Ngara concluded.
And, hours after the rally, the NCPD issued a follow-up statement, seeming to further cast a negative light on Guerra Guerra.
“Further investigation revealed that Mr. Guerra Guerra has been employed at a business in Massapequa using a false identity. Mr. Guerra Guerra was unlawfully using a social security number from a California resident and was unlawfully using an alien identification number from a New Jersey resident,” the NCPD alleged.
Elise Damas, Esq., director of the Pathway to Citizenship Long Island for the Central American Refugee Center, asserted that these claims — issued with no proof — were made three weeks after the arrest and sidestep the central issue of why Guerra Guerra was arrested to begin with.
“It in no way was what led to the arrest, which is the issue here. It is a distractor intended to draw attention away from the fact that they are engaging in a practice which violates their policy and what they have repeatedly assured the community,” Damas, who also represented Guerra Guerra, said.
Despite the rhetoric, backing for Guerra Guerra has burgeoned, including in the formal support from elected officials including Congress members Rep. Kathleen Rice and Rep. Thomas Suozzi.
In a letter penned to NCPD Commissioner Patrick Ryder, Suozzi said trust in law enforcement is inherent to successful community policing.
“…It is counterproductive to Nassau’s long term community policing efforts to facilitate the deportation of individuals who have not committed a crime. By doing so, you will encourage those undocumented people living in our community (some for decades) to be fearful of local law enforcement officials. They will thereby by afraid to cooperate with the police in any way,” Suozzi wrote.
Though the NCPD has a stated policy of not asking for status of victims or witnesses of crimes, an example like the case of Guerra Guerra sends a starkly opposing message to the community.
The immigrant community is just as opposed to MS-13 as law enforcement officials are. If police truly aim to effectively get rid of gangs, they should work to build a bridge, rather than widen the gap. Only trust in law enforcement will lead to the genuine cooperation that can eradicate real crime.