Saidah Mohammed, an 18-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, hasnt seen her
boyfriend, Jaun Pierre, for over a year. Hes being detained while he awaits
deportation to his native Jamaica, an island he hasnt visited since his parents
brought him to the U.S., settling in Brooklyn some 10 years ago.
Jaun, 19, has spent the past 11 months in immigration detention. Before that
he spent months detained on a minor charge in New York Citys Rikers Island
prison. It was while he was a prisoner at Rikers that Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) agents caught Jaun. His lawyer advised him to plead guilty to
charges stemming from a fight he was allegedly involved in without informing him
that such a plea would set grounds for deportation. Now proceedings are underway
to return Jaun to Jamaica, away from his parents, siblings, friends and Saidah.
(*In response to a readers comment, this paragraph was edited for
Saidah told her boyfriends story through tears at a press conference Tuesday
in New York where advocates and religious groups launched a new campaign to end
the presence of ICE at the citys jails.
Advocates** called on New York Citys government to pass legislation that would
preclude ICE from accessing detainees place of birth information prior to
conviction. A bill drafted by the groups and sponsored by Council Member Eric
Gioia will be introduced in the City Council next week.
ICE increased its presence in jails and prisons after 2001 as part of a
Homeland Security plan to improve cooperation between federal, state and local
governments in detecting criminal foreigners. Last May, the Obama Administration announced an expansion of the program to
Correctional centers provide ICE with a list of foreign-born detainees, both
legal and undocumented. Immigration agents then use this information to conduct
interrogation and, in some cases, initiate repatriation proceedings.
Pro-immigrant groups and lawyers say that thousands of foreign-born people,
including green card holders, have been subject to coercive and deceitful
interrogations without any oversight or accountability.
Data provided by the Rikers Island prison to immigrant groups under the
Freedom of Information Act shows that between 2004 and 2008, close to 13,000
foreign-born detainees were subject to deportation proceedings regardless of
their immigration status or the type of crime they committed.
Gilliam Brigham, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency, defended the program in a response published by The New York
Times: By processing these criminal aliens for removal before they are
released to the general public, ICE is enhancing public safety, she said.
Advocates, however, are concerned about the impact that this practice has on
families and communities.
Each time a New Yorker is plucked out of Rikers and sent into the black hole
of immigration detention, there is a New York City family left behind (ICE is)
leaving the deportees families abandoned in New York and dependent on our
citys strained social service system, said the Rev. Giovanny Sanchez, senior
minister of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Brooklyn and a leader of
the New Sanctuary
Coalition. It is not in our citys interest to be complicit in a federal
deportation policy hijacked by the politics of fear.
Advocates also point out that holding foreign-born people at local prisons
until immigration agents come to interrogate them drives up expenses for local
governments. Detention is costly and governments have to compensate those who
have been held illegally, they say.
Prisons hold foreign-born detainees until ICE agents come. That is supposed
to take 48 hours, but we know that it often takes weeks or months ( ) People
have the right to be compensated for the time they have been denied freedom, and
that money comes from taxpayers pockets, explained Alisa Wellek, a member of
the New York University Immigration Rights Clinic.
Wellek told the story of one client, a man from Barbados to whom the city
paid $145,000 for approximately 45 days of illegal detention at Rikers
Another concern is the effect that this practice may have on public safety.
This practice is dangerous because immigrants fear enforcement agencies, and
that makes communities very unsafe, said Javier Valdes, deputy director of Make the Road New York.
Valdes concerns are shared by Cecilia Gaston, the executive director of the
Domestic Violence Intervention Program, an organization that serves immigrant
women who have been abused by their spouses. Gaston said that many of her
clients dont call the police to denounce their attackers because they fear
immigration-related repercussions. She also said that many families have been
destabilized after a family member was deported.
**Including Make the Road New York