The Devastating Results of Immigrant Detention and Deportation Practices in NYC

Photo by Susan NYC

The NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, Immigrant Defense Project, and Families for Freedom released a report Monday detailing widespread denial of justice for immigrant New Yorkers in detention and deportation proceedings.

Insecure Communities, Devastated Families: New Data on Immigrant Detention and Deportation Practices in New York City is based on information released after the organizations won a federal lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which had not complied with an initial request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

The report makes available for the first time statistics that put the spotlight on detention and deportation practices in the city. Until now, there has been scant data on what happens to immigrant New Yorkers who are apprehended by ICE, and the extent of the agency’s enforcement operations in New York.

“We now have hard evidence that ICE practices are terrorizing our city’s immigrant communities,” said Alisa Wellek, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Defense Project.

U.S. immigration authorities have been using the city’s criminal justice system to funnel tens of thousands of immigrants into deportation, where 91 percent of those detained lost their cases. Researchers found that between October 2005 and December 2010, ICE apprehended 34,000 people in New York, 77 percent of whom were moved directly from the criminal justice system into immigrant detention.

Furthermore, data demonstrates that 80 percent of detained immigrants were never given a bond setting which would allow them to be released on bond pending the outcome of their case. In the rare instances when bond was established, it was prohibitively high.

“ICE set a bond of $100,000. It’s been a huge strain on my family and myself,” said Dave Pierre, an immigrant whose story is featured in the report.  “We don’t have that kind of money, especially since I’ve been locked up in immigrant detention for two years.”

The report highlights the fact that immigrant detainees were transferred to facilities as far away as Texas and Louisiana, and those sent away almost never obtained relief from deportation. Alarmingly, ICE transferred New Yorkers out of state whether or not they had U.S. citizen children.

“The data is a direct reflection of our members’ experiences here in New York City as a result of the detention to deportation pipeline,” said Abraham Paulos, Executive Director of Families for Freedom.

“My father was taken from us when I was ten years old,” said Charlie Acquista, a member of Families for Freedom whose father was ultimately deported. “No family should suffer what we have, just because their loved one was born in a different country.”

Ultimately, the report concludes, ICE’s detention and deportation policies are breaking apart New York City families and neighborhoods. During the period studied, the parents of 13,521 U.S. citizen children were apprehended in New York. Eighty-seven percent of resolved cases of immigrants with American children resulted in deportation.

Insecure Communities, Devastated Families was released two months after ICE activated the Secure Communities Program, which is supposed to be “a simple and common sense way to carry out ICE’s priorities” of deporting “criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators,” throughout New York.

Across the nation, a growing number of activists, advocates, and elected officials have been protesting the program because of its dragnet approach which does not distinguish between dangerous criminals and those facing civil immigration infractions. The program also strains the already tenuous relationship between immigrant communities and law enforcement officials. Last year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended the state’s participation in Secure Communities due to “mounting evidence that the program is not meeting its stated goal and has serious consequences for witnesses, victims of crime and law enforcement.”

“Although we are supposed to be a country that values fairness and second chances, the odds are significantly stacked up against immigrants,” said Michelle Fei, Executive Director of the Immigrant Defense Project. “New York City needs to demonstrate leadership by refusing to participate in this deportation regime.”

Refusal to participate is not an option. The Obama administration made that crystal clear last year. As of June, ICE had activated Secure Communities in 3,074 of 3,181 or 97 percent of jurisdictions across the country.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

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AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.