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Know Your Rights
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Millions $$$ to Deport New Yorkers

The New York City Council held an oversight hearing to investigate the New York City Department of Correction’s (“DOC”) role in the deportation of New Yorkers. Based on the preliminary findings, released today, of a forthcoming report by Justice Strategies, advocates estimate that the City is spending over $50 million to hold individuals in DOC custody at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s request. Justice Strategies is a nonpartisan research organization. The new findings also demonstrate that neither ICE nor DOC is exercising any discretion: anyone in DOC custody who can be deported is being transferred to ICE custody, including many lawful permanent residents and individuals with no criminal record.

Javier H. Valdes, Deputy Director of Make the Road New York explained, “New York City is funneling 3,000-4,000 New Yorkers a year from DOC custody into the black hole of immigration detention. The human, public safety, and fiscal costs to the City from DOC’s current policy are tremendous and unjustified. We are urging the City to adopt a sensible and balanced approach to this issue.”

Currently, when someone is arrested by the NYPD and enters DOC custody, DOC assists in ICE investigations, which occur within hours of a detainee’s arrival. Though these individuals still enjoy the presumption of innocence, ICE immediately issues an “immigration detainer” on anyone they think they can deport. The Justice Strategies findings show that, in most instances, detainers are issued within twenty-four hours of an individual’s arrival in DOC custody. Localities are not required to hold individuals on immigration detainers — detainers are requests not commands. Nevertheless, current DOC policy is, like that of ICE, to exercise no discretion. DOC holds anyone with an immigration detainer, at New York City expense, in order to facilitate their transfer into immigration detention. It doesn’t matter if people have only a minor criminal record or even if they have been found not guilty; DOC holds everyone for ICE.

Once these individuals are placed in ICE custody, many of them are transferred to detention centers in remote areas of Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, where they are isolated from their families and the resources necessary to mount a defense. There is no right to an attorney in deportation proceedings and, as such, only about 16% of people in ICE detention are represented. Immigration detainees in these remote detention centers are frequently denied access to medical care and, tragically, there have already been reported incidents of New Yorkers sent by DOC into ICE custody who later died as a result of ICE’s negligent medical care.

Immigration detainers are only supposed to authorize forty-eight hours of additional detention, in order to facilitate an individual’s transfer from a local jail to ICE custody. But the Justice Strategy findings, which are drawn from DOC’s own data, show that “noncitizens with an ICE detainer spend 73 days longer in jail before being discharged, on average, than those without an ICE detainer.” Justice Strategies explains that is because, in “New York City, [immigration] detainers are enforced in such a fashion as to effectively terminate the bail rights of certain pre-trial noncitizen prisoners.”

Advocates have known for some time that ICE issues approximately 3500 detainers a year to DOC. They have also known that detainers caused people to spend significantly longer in DOC custody because people with detainers cannot be bailed out. But without knowing how much extra detention ICE holds caused, advocates had struggled to put a dollar figure on the City’s immigration detainer policy. Now, the Justice Strategy findings (73 extra days of DOC custody), together with the Mayor’s Management Report — which put the costs of DOC detention at approximately $209 per day — allow the public, for the first time, to know the true cost of DOC’s immigration policy: over $50 million a year.

The Justice Strategies analysis also demonstrates that “While Homeland Security purports to target the most dangerous offenders, there appears to be no correlation between offense level and identification for deportation.” As Aarti Shahani, the lead author of the forthcoming Justice Strategies report explained, “The findings are powerful in their simplicity. It appears that ICE doesn’t have a system to prioritize people, despite the talk of public safety. Meanwhile, New York City — the nation’s premiere sanctuary city — hasn’t accounted for how this deportation program impacts its prisoners or the criminal justice system.”

For two years, a coalition of community and faith based organizations – led by Make the Road New York, New Sanctuary Coalition and with legal assistance from the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law – have been meeting with City officials and urging the City to develop a sensible and balanced detainer policy. Today, the New York City Council and Speaker Christine Quinn are taking a significant step in that direction by calling an oversight hearing: “Examining New York City’s Department of Correction’s Cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” At the hearing, the Council will hear from DOC Commissioner Dora Schriro as well as a host of community and faith based organizations and affected individuals.

“The preliminary findings released today indicate that the policy of cooperating with ICE is unjust, inconsistent with our city’s values and fiscally unsound,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Particularly in our current economic climate, spending millions in taxpayer dollars each year to help enforce our broken immigration laws is unacceptable, especially when this collaboration is not required by law. The lack of discretion exercised over immigration detainers demonstrated by these findings is equally troubling. The City must get out of the business of being complicit in the separation of families, particularly where there is no serious criminal activity involved.”

“The current City policy does not engage in any balancing of local interests to determine when it is, and when it is not, in New York City’s interest to hold an individual on an ICE detainer. Every time ICE drops a detainer New York City taxpayers pick up the tab. It is like giving ICE a blank check,” explained Nicholas Katz from the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic.