By Jonathan Sperling
THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED TO INCLUDE A RESPONSE FROM THE CITY
A coalition of community groups has expressed fears that the city’s borough-based jails plan would unintentionally give Immigration and Customs Enforcements officers more opportunities to track or detain undocumented immigrants who are incarcerated. The city contends that they have taken measures to successfully prevent ICE incursions and arrests in the jail system.
In a letter written to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last week, members of Queens Residents United, Chinatown Core Block Association and nine other signatories state that the City Council must give more thought to the jails plan and its impact on the boroughs’ undocumented immigrant population.
“Mayor de Blasio has not laid out a clear plan to explain how undocumented New Yorkers will be adequately protected from ICE surveillance and detention under his BBJs [borough-based jails] proposal. And as far as we know, the City Council has not yet formally addressed this issue,” the letter reads.
The number of immigrants detained by ICE in jails throughout the city more than doubled since President Donald Trump took office, according to Documented.
The letter states that any additional jails built in the boroughs would increase ICE surveillance in the area, just as it has at other sites related to the criminal justice system, such as courts and jails.
“This is why the Council must pause, declare that it will not approve the mayor’s proposal to build new jails and demand answers about how it will not make it easier for ICE to track or detain undocumented immigrants in New York City, and negatively impact our general immigrant population,” the letter continues.
The city contends that existing laws would prevent ICE from making incursions into the jails, just as they block ICE from Rikers Island and other city detention facilities.
New York City’s detainer law prevents law enforcement or corrections staff from holding a detainee or inmate for federal immigration agents unless they have been convicted of one of 177 “violent or serious crimes.” ICE must then present a valid judicial warrant for the person’s arrest signed by a federal judge. The city does not alert ICE of a detainee or inmate’s release unless they have been convicted of one of the 177 crimes or are on the terrorist watch list, the city said.
The detainer policy is specifically designed to make undocumented victims or witnesses feel safe to report crimes to the police without fear of immigration repercussions, city officials said.
ICE does not have access to information on the time of a detainee or inmate’s release, the city said. ICE officials have complained that the city’s policies prevent federal immigration agents from making arrests. The policies will continue when the new jails are constructed, the city said.
Immigrants and their advocates have been on high alert amid a large scale federal crackdown on non-citizens, including the arrest of longtime residents with minor convictions in New York City, under the Trump Administration,
ICE activity in and around courthouses have increased significantly since Trump’s inauguration in 2017. A report by the Immigrant Defense Project determined that there were 202 reported ICE arrests and sightings in 2018, including 32 in Queens — second-highest of any county in the state.
Six people have been arrested by ICE agents inside courthouses in New York City so far this year, according to information provided by the Office of Court Administration. OCA does not count the number of people arrested by ICE outside courthouses, however. In April, ICE arrested Queens resident Alma Centeno Santiago, a pregnant mother of two, outside Queens Family Court, for example.
The City Planning Commission voted earlier this month to approve de Blasio’s plan to build the four new borough-based jails, including once in Kew Gardens, as part of the effort to close the violence-plagued jail complex at Rikers Island by 2026. The Kew Gardens jail would be located at 126-02 82nd Ave.