A pregnant mother arrested by ICE at Queens Family Court is still sick in a NJ jail

Activists demonstrate against ICE deportations. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen via Wikimedia Commons.

Activists demonstrate against ICE deportations. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen via Wikimedia Commons.

By David Brand

A pregnant mother detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after an appearance in Queens Family Court is still sick with severe stomach problems, and the health of her fetus remains unclear, her attorney told the Eagle.

Alma Centeno-Santiago, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, was arrested by ICE outside Family Court in mid-April and transported to Bergen County Jail, where she developed a severe stomach infection. Telemundo first reported on Centeno-Santiago’s detention and illness.

“It's a terrible situation and she’s not well; she’s not physically well and she’s not mentally well,” her attorney Jodie Ziesemer, director of the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group. “She is separated from her family and she’s being threatened with being deported.”

Ziesemer told the Eagle she spoke with Centeno-Santiago Thursday morning and learned that she has been in and out of the jail’s medical clinic in recent days. Ziesemer did not know if Centeno-Santiago’s health problems have affected her fetus.

“I don’t know if she knows the answer,” Ziesemer said. “She hasn’t been told anything about whether her recent stomach problems will have an effect.”

“It’s unclear if she will be able to get out even with the humanitarian concerns,” she added.

Six people at the Bergen County jail have been diagnosed with mumps and the facility has been quarantined. Ziesemer said she was able to meet with Centeno-Santiago after signing a waiver, but her family has not been able to visit.

At least 33 undocumented immigrants were arrested in and around Queens courthouses in 2018, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project. More than 200 immigrants were detained by ICE in and around courthouses statewide, IDP reported. Only Brooklyn, with 35, had more ICE courthouse arrests than Queens.

Centeno-Santiago has two children who are American citizens and has lived in the U.S. since 2004, Telemundo reported. She was at Family Court to settle a dispute with her partner and the circumstances of her arrest have stood out to immigrants’ rights advocates.

“This a particularly harrowing example of the human devastation caused when ICE enters the courthouse,” Make the Road Action Managing Director Daniel Altschuler told the Eagle.

The New York State Office of Court Administration issued a directive in April — just days after Centeno-Santiago’s arrest — that prevents ICE agents from making arrests inside courthouses without a judicial warrant or judicial order.

The measure does not stop ICE from arresting people outside courthouses or on their way to and from court appearances, however. A bill that has failed to pass in the state legislature would prevent ICE agents from targeting any individual on their way to and from court.

New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., Bronx County District Attorney Darcel Clark and three others DAs from across the state signed onto the letter earlier this month arguing that ICE’s presence near courts disrupts the legal justice system by discouraging victims and witnesses to come to court. The prosecutors urged the state Assembly and Senate to pass the Protect Our Courts Act.

“ICE arrests at courthouses interfere with court proceedings, are a potential threat to public safety and instill fear in immigrant communities,” the letter states. “As District Attorneys, we are charged with administering justice in the state, and this issue significantly undermines that purpose. We request that the New York State legislature immediately act to address this crucial issue.”

A federal judge in Massachusetts issued an injunction Thursday that prevents ICE “from civilly arresting parties, witnesses, and others attending Massachusetts courthouses on official business while they are going to, attending, or leaving the courthouses.”

The measure marks the first time a judge has stopped ICE from making arrests across an entire state, the AP reported.

Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Derek Sands said Department of Justice laws prevent the jail from sharing information about detainees in ICE custody, including Centeno-Santiago.

“However, in general the medical staff at the jail take all necessary precautions for inmates/detainees whose medical conditions require specialized medical services including prenatal care. The Bergen County Jail is a triple accredited facility and does everything to maintain the general health, welfare, and safety of the individuals in the facility,” Sands said.

ICE did not respond to request for comment.