Traffic Stop Involving Guatemalan Woman Starts Chain of Protests and Confusion

GENESEO, N.Y. -- A traffic stop Thursday evening in Geneseo, Livingston County, drew a crowd and then led to a protest erupting hours later at United States Customs and Border Patrol in Irondequoit.

On Friday, police in Geneseo defended the officer's decision to call in Border Patrol agents, who took a woman and her 12-year-old brother away, after the minivan was pulled over.

Police initially stopped the woman for speeding; going 46 in a 30 mile-per-hour zone. When asked for identification, all she had was a Guatemalan passport.

Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian said the woman did not have a valid driver's license and two of the children in the minivan were not in car seats, as required by law. Osganian said a language barrier only complicated matters further.

"We do try and confirm identity. We had a violation of law, so it's our obligation to find out who we have in the driver's seat there," Osganian said.

Osganian said the officer was following through while trying to identify the driver, and called Border Patrol for assistance. Osganian said if there was a valid licensed driver, there would have been no need to call Border Patrol to confirm the identification of the driver.

"For people that are concerned we are 'rounding up' people and doing 'raids' are all completely untrue," Osganian said. "We have never done any of those activities here and we have no plans to do them."

The woman and boy were then taken to Irondequoit, where a protest occurred overnight. There was one arrest: Philipp Birklbauer, who was arrested after police say he threw a wooden object and struck a state trooper. Birklbauer, 29, faces several charges including reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration and unlawful assembly.

According to New York Immigraiton Coalition officials, all who were detained were released from custody Friday morning. They say the familes have been reunited and are all back together.

Evan Goldstein took photos and video of the traffic stop.

"I hope the pictures stand for themselves because it was pretty clear a family was being torn apart," Goldstein said. "Everyone knows the issue and is sort of pretty sensitive to the fact that when border patrol gets called, that's when people get taken from their homes."

Osganian says the incident may force the department to review how it handles similar cases; one which he says put his officer in an unavoidable spot.

"The situation he had last night, I think he really had a no-win situation. Either he lets them go, or follows up and calls another resource which he did," Osganian said.

Border Patrol did not immediately return a request for comment

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