This morning the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), Families for Freedom, and the New York University School of Law Immigrants Right Clinic released a new report entitled "Insecure Communities, Devastated Families: New Data on Immigrant Detention and Deportation Practices in New York City". The report is based on data obtained from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the NYU School of Law Immigrants Rights Clinic to show that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses "the New York City criminal justice system to funnel tens of thousands of immigrants into deportation" according to a joint press release. Seventy-seven percent of persons detained by ICE came in through the New York City criminal justice system. Ninety-one percent of those detained ended up deported.
The data, most of which is being publicly released for the first time, highlights the fundamental flaws of programs such as the Criminal Alien Project (CAP) and Secure Communities (S-Comm), which was enforced State-wide last May, as well as of our detention and deportation system as a whole. Of the 400,000 deportations ICE insists it must carry out in FY 2012, 9%, or almost one in ten deportees, must be from one of the five boroughs of New York City. Secure Communities will likely be a critical tool in helping ICE meet this threshold. "Secure Communities makes [police] precincts virtual immigration checkpoints" noted Abraham Paulos, Executive Director of Families for Freedom. Whereas the CAP program identified non-citizens with criminal backgrounds once they arrived at Riker's Island Correctional Facility, S-Comm singles out non-citizens as they are booked, before any criminal proceedings have even been initiated. Once ICE is alerted as to a person's immigration status and initiates deportation proceedings, the person has to fight deportation charges regardless of whether they actually committed a crime.
From 2005 to 2010, ICE apprehended 34,000 New Yorkers. Queens had the highest percentage of residents detained by ICE (35%), followed by Brooklyn (29%), the Bronx (19%), Manhattan (14%), and Staten Island (3%). Of those who remained detained throughout their immigration proceedings, 91% were deported. As a result, at least 13,500 New York City children lost parents to deportation. What is more troublesome is that these numbers reflect the outcome of ICE practices and policies before the mandatory implementation of S-Comm throughout the State. With its much larger dragnet, immigrant activists fear that S-Comm will transform the New York City criminal justice center into a much bigger conduit to deportation.
Charlie Acquista, who spoke at a press conference announcing the release of the report, described the heartache he and his two US Citizen siblings endured after their father was detained in deported. "If family values are so important in America," he asked "then why is our government trying to separate us from our loved ones?" Dave Pierre, who has been detained by ICE for over two years, also noted "it's been a huge strain on my family and myself." ICE detainees are often transferred between facilities, some as far away from New York as Texas or Arizona, and are forced to remain imprisoned due to prohibitively high bond amounts, if bonds are set at all. Pierre, for example, was transferred seven times in twenty-five days and was given a bond of $100,000, which his family cannot afford to pay. His frequent transfers made it hard for find a lawyer who could take on his case, so he spent the first year of his detention unrepresented.
Common sense dictates that it is far harder to afford a lawyer and successfully fight a deportation case when a non-citizen is detained, often far away from their family and friends, then when they are free. Yet, during the time period covered by the report (2005 - 2010), the number of New Yorkers detained each year without bond (bail) rose dramatically from 771 in 2006 to 1,921 in 2010. During that same period, at least 5,410 detainees were parents to US Citizens. Approximately half of those held without bond had lived in the United States for at least ten years, and 39% had no criminal history. In addition, according to ICE's recording system, "only 9% of individuals are considered subject to mandatory detention [and therefore ineligible for bond]. Thus, 91% of immigrants are eligible for bond, and yet 80% are detained without any bond setting." The data also shows that, when set, bond amounts are usually prohibitively high. Seventy-five percent of bonds were $5,000 or more, and of those over a third were set at $10,000 or more. As a result, 55% of those who receive bond are unable to pay it. By comparison, a New Yorker is nineteen times more likely to receive a bond of $1,000 or less in criminal court than in immigration detention, despite New York State Courts being frequently criticized for overly-harsh bail and bond determinations.
Transfers to detention facilities outside the New York/New Jersey area also reached an all time high in the years covered by the report. Over half of all New Yorkers detained by ICE were transferred out of the area. Of the detained and transferred cases that were resolved during the years covered by the report, 94.5% resulted in deportation (compared with 74% of cases that were granted relief after being released and having their cases remain in New York City). In total, 6,772 US Citizen children saw their parents transferred (a fifth of all transferred detainees). Forty percent were transferred to facilities in Texas, 11% to facilities in Louisiana, and 8% were transferred to Pennsylvania. Detention in general and transfers in particular make it difficult for non-citizens to obtain legal representation and fight deportation. Sixty percent of detained individuals in New York were unrepresented, more than twice the number of un-represented individuals who are not detained.
The impact of ICE's policies on families and communities is dramatic. In addition to the trauma suffered by the children who lose at least one parent to detention and deportation, the cost to the State, which must then provide social and welfare services to those left behind, is also high. Moreover, programs such as S-Comm breed mistrust of law enforcement within communities as members become more reluctant to interact with police and to report crime, making us all less safe. In a city like New York, where immigrant communities make up a large percentage of the population, these repercussions affect every resident.