Is NYC Really a Sanctuary for Immigrants?
By Zaira Cortés
The threat of Immigration and Cus- toms Enforcement (ICE) raids in 2016 is not new to New York. According to the claims of activists and elected officials, the agency has had its sights set on courts and immigrant neighborhoods for more than a year, a practice not seen since the 1980s and ’90s. This has led many to question if the Big Apple is really a sanctuary city for immigrants.
Janet Hernández’s worst nightmare came true on the night of Sept. 1, when immigration agents knocked on the door of her Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, home.
“They said they were New York City police officers and that they were looking for bank robbers. They showed us the picture of a young man with my brother’s name,” said the mother of three teenagers. “They were wearing vests without insignia. They had no badges and did not identify themselves, and they didn’t give us a court order.”
The 40-year-old Mexican immigrant said that the agents parked two vans in front of her house on Avenue U. Her husband, half-asleep and in his pajamas, saw them through the window and assumed that maybe one of his sons had gotten in trouble.
“I imagined the police were in my house for some of the kids mischief, and I opened the door without thinking. That was the worst mistake of my life,” said Gustavo Valerio, 40, regretting the outcome of that unexpected visit.
When Valerio answered the door, men in uniform entered his apartment, inspected every room and interrogated every member of the family, including their youngest daughter, who is 17 years old. The agents were looking for an alleged bank robber by the name of Silvino Hernández.
“They told me that the criminal was using my brother’s name, and asked to talk to him to make sure that he was not the person they were looking for,” said Hernández. Her brother Silvino came from Mexico in the
1990s and settled in Sunset Park. Later, the whole family moved to Bensonhurst. The 32-year-old man worked at a jewelry factory until four years ago, when he decided to try his luck as a cab driver. In 2014, the police arrested him for driving drunk and without a license, and he was also carrying a fake identification.
“My brother paid his bail with jail time and went to court. He obeyed everything the judge ordered and even went to Alcoholics Anonymous,” said Hernández. “His last hearing was going to be on Oct. 5,
Scared by the officers’ harassment, Janet’s youngest daughter called her uncle, who was working in his taxi. When he got home, the agents arrested him.
“I asked why they were taking him, and they told me not to get involved if I didn’t want to be at risk. At that moment, they said they were immigration officers.” She added: “‘La migra’ took my brother’s informa-
tion from the city’s courts. It is an injustice, a dirty thing to do.”
Since his arrest, Silvino has been in an immigration jail in New Jersey.
No deportation order has been issued against him, according to his family. “The day they took my brother, ‘la migra’ arrested two other young men in Sunset Park,” Silvino told Janet in a phone call from prison.
Raids in immigrants’ homes
Activists from several pro-immigrant organizations have reported that house raids and the harassment by immigration agents at the city’s courts are increasingly common unofficial practices. Cindy Martínez, an organizer for Families for Freedom, explained that immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx are the main targets.
Martínez, whose organization has received numerous complaints of house raids in the last few months, said that immigration agents generally identify themselves as city police, arrive between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., and rarely have an arrest warrant.
“They arrive in the early morning hours when they are more likely to find the person they are looking for. People are also not thinking clearly; they are startled and scared and they open the door,” said Martínez.
The activist said that the arrests relate to recent cases registered in the city’s court system ‒ even some that are still in process ‒ although some are backdated.
“Some of these people committed an offense decades or years ago, went to court or to jail, and the case was closed, but immigration authorities have this information and are looking in homes to make these arrests,” she added.
Denise Romero, a workers organizer and activist for Families for Freedom, said that house raids were common in New York in the 1980s and ’90s but pressure from pro-immigrant groups put a stop to the practice. It is now being applied by ICE after the city terminated its collaboration with the Secure Communities deportation program.
Last year, New York joined other cities where laws limit the extent of the local administration’s cooperation with immigration authorities.
Lacking access to the largest correctional system in the U.S., ICE turned to house raids and to harassment in courts to fulfill their deportations quota,” said Romero. “We even have complaints that immigration agents make arrests outside homeless shelters.”
“House raids are going on every day in our city,” said Cindy Martínez. “We have seen an increase in this practice in the last year and a half.”
A quota to fulfill
Under the Appropriations Act of 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required to keep “no less than 34,000 detention beds,” the quota Romero mentions. In March of 2013, then-ICE Director John T. Morton testified in Congress that the agency interpreted the mandate as an order to detain 34,000 people per day.
“ICE is classifying people who have committed minor offenses as candidates for deportation,” said Tania Matos, an activist with UnLocal, Inc., an organization advocating for immigrants.
Matos added that “this new ICE tactic has the potential to turn any interaction with the city’s correctional system into a possible deportation, and house raids put family members without legal status at risk.”
“We have heard that immigration agents take identification away from the residents of the and make them sign documents, claiming that they are notifying their country’s consulate. In reality, they are signing a voluntary deportation,” said Denise Romero.
In October, a joint hearing of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services and the City Council’s Committee on Im- migration revealed that immigration agents are harassing people at city courts. How- ever, activists say that they don’t have enough information on ICE’s strategies.
Even though the agency can no longer obtain information from the police and the De- partment of Correction with- out a court order, advocates believe that immigration authorities are turning to a vastly extended surveillance structure, the cooperation of willing city employees and a data-collection methodology that involves interrogating people they assume are candidates for deportation without identifying themselves as ICE agents. “Enforcing immigration civil law in the city’s courts and other sensitive places against people who pose no threat to the public is counterproductive. It deprives immigrant families of access to justice and of their full participation in our society, and makes our city less safe,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “New York City will continue with its mission to keep families together and ensure that people have the resources they need to prevent unnecessary detention and deportation.”
ICE said in a press release that the agency has specific policies to deal with detentions made at courts and other sen- sitive places.
“These detentions are only considered in cases of foreigners who fit ICE’s highest priorities, such as threats to national security, gang mem- bers and convicted criminals. Immigration detentions made in courts or planned in ad- vance to be made near courts, are only approved after exhausting all other options,” read the mail.
When an arrest is made, ICE officers have a specific and detailed description of the objective, including photographs and other personal identification information.”
ICE did not reveal the number of arrests carried out at courts and in house raids in the last few months, but activists say that it is in the dozens. Activists also dispute ICE’s statements. According to documents of the joint hearing of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services and the City Council’s Committee on Immigration, ICE agents lied about making arrests at city courts, alleging that they carried out the detentions at nearby places as the organizations have demanded.
The organization Families for Freedom is running an education campaign about ICE’s house raids in Latino neigh- borhoods and is pressing to stop this practice.
Source: El Diario/La Prensa
| Translated by K. Casiano from Spanish Original story