NEW YORKSeveral hundred Immigrants marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Tuesday, October 19, to draw attention to Department of Corrections (DOC) practices that they say threaten the freedoms of legal and illegal immigrants alike.
Thousands of immigrants held by the DOC are transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) every year, according to Make the Road New York (MRNY), the immigrant advocacy group that organized the march. Among the 3,000 to 4,000 transferred to detention centers as far away as Texas or Alabama, are not only undocumented immigrants, but also asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, and those seeking protection under the Violence Against Women Act.
Theyre brought into the jail system and then (corrections officers) do a background check and then theyre suddenly in detention centers. It doesnt mean that theyre here illegally. Were estimating that about 35 percent are permanent residents, people who are here legally, who are just foreign born. Thats what theyre using to identify people. There are cases of U.S. citizens being deported, said Melissa Lefas, a law student at Cardozo School of Law and a member of the Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo.
A program run by ICE, Secure Communities, aims to identify criminal aliens for deportation by sharing information between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. A Secure Communities brochure states that fingerprints submitted during the booking process (are) checked against FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records, including immigration status, providing valuable information to accurately identify those in custody.
The brochure highlights the case of several criminals involved in violent crimes and drug infractions who have been apprehended and deported through the information-sharing program. Lefas, however, maintains that "theyve got this really wide net and there aren’t the mechanisms to really be able to filter through and identify the right people."
Lefas supports legislation that City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Melissa Mark-Viverito are proposing, which calls for the citys withdrawal from Secure Communities. DOC participates in the program voluntarily and is under no legal obligation to release detainee information, according to the proposal.
The current situation discourages immigrant victims of violence or witnesses of crimes to cooperate with police, say MRNY members. Domestic violence victims in particular are reluctant to call for vital police assistance if they know the result will be the deportation of their loved one, said MRNY in a press release.
DOC attorneys did not respond to inquiries and ICE did not respond as of press deadline.