Pregnant mother arrested by ICE at Queens Family Court is sick and isolated in NJ jail

Detainees inside the Bergen County Jail.  Photo via the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.

Detainees inside the Bergen County Jail. Photo via the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.

By David Brand

A pregnant mother who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after a Queens Family Court appearance is locked away in a New Jersey jail, where she has experienced severe stomach problems, her family and advocates say.

Alma Centeno-Santiago, an immigrant from Guatemala, was arrested at the courthouse in April and transported to New Jersey’s Bergen County Detention Facility, Telemundo reported. At least six people at the jail have been diagnosed with mumps and the facility has been quarantined.

“Conditions are inhumane. They don’t have a heart,” Centeno-Santiago told Telemundo reporter Pablo Gutierrez.

Centeno-Santiago faces an order of deportation after she entered the United States without proper documentation in 2004. She does not have a criminal record and her two children are U.S. citizens.

“It’s unjust what’s happening to my daughter,” her mother told Telemundo. “She’s not bad. She’s a good person.

Last month, Centeno-Santiago connected with immigrant services provider First Friends of New Jersey and New York, which offers visitation services and temporary housing for immigrants.

“What we've been doing is reaching out to the jail and to the warden and making sure she is getting care that is appropriate for her,” First Friends Executive Director Victor Salama told the Eagle.

A letter from First Friends to jail staff included in the Telemundo report indicates that Centeno-Santiago has “been suffering from vomiting, stomach pain and dehydration” and has an increased risk of miscarriage.

”The client was hospitalized briefly but is not receiving consistent medication,” the letter continues. “Ms. Centeno-Santiago has also been isolated in the infirmary on several occasions.”

Salama directed additional questions to Centeno-Santiago’s attorneys with the New York Legal Assistance Group. Her lawyers did not immediately respond to request for more information.

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.

“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.

Centeno-Santiago is one of several immigrants who have been arrested by ICE in and around Queens courts since 2017, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project. The report revealed that courthouse ICE arrests have increased by 1700 percent in New York between 2016 and 2018.

IDP documented 202 courthouse ICE arrests statewide in 2018, with Queens and Brooklyn accounting for the highest number of arrests in the state. There were 33 documented arrests outside Queens courthouses and 35 outside Brooklyn courthouses last year, IDP reported.

On Jan. 16, attorneys sent the Eagle photos of ICE agents arresting a man on the 82nd Street side of the Queens Criminal Courthouse. In November 2018, a cellphone video, reported by Documented, showed plainclothes ICE agents dragging a man away from the sidewalk outside the Kew Gardens court.

After years of advocacy by immigrants’ rights activists, the New York State Office of Court Administration issued a directive in April mandating that ICE agents obtain a judicial warrant reviewed by a Unified Court System judge or court attorney before making an arrest inside a state courthouse.

“Arrests by agents of U.S. lmmigration and Customs Enforcement may be executed inside a New York State courthouse only pursuant to a judicial warrant or judicial order authorizing the arrest,” the text of the directive states. “A ‘judicial warrant’ or ‘judicial order’ is a warrant or order issued by a federal judge or federal magistrate judge. A UCS judge or court attorney shall review the warrant or order to confirm compliance with this requirement prior to any such arrest.”

The directive does not prevent ICE from arresting people outside of courthouses, however.

Advocates and lawmakers continue to urge the state legislature to pass the Protect Our Courts Act before the end of the legislative session Wednesday. Three New York City district attorneys have also supported the bill, which could stop ICE from arresting immigrants on their way to and from court.

“The ‘Protect Our Courts Act’ sponsored by Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages and Senator Brad Hoylman, is one way New York state can counterbalance these devastating consequences, and we have one day left in NY’s legislative session to help protect our non-citizen community members,” Bronx Defenders immigration attorney Brigitte Hamadey wrote in a City Limits op-ed Wednesday.

ICE did not provide a response to questions from the Eagle.

Follow David Brand on Twitter: @DavidFBrand