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New York’s Immigration Courts: Where Immigrants Sit in Jail Without a Hearing

General due process rights require a criminal case is filed in less than 48 hours. Immigration cases often take six days.

Max Siegelbaum

Jun 05, 2020

Manhattan, New York - May 6, 2018: Views of Federal Plaza building. Photo: Christopher Lee for Documented.

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After Gustavo Alzate, a 34-year-old property manager for a New York real estate firm, was arrested by federal agents, they brought him to a New Jersey jail to await his immigration court hearing. He used a jailhouse hotline to call into the court every day to try and figure out when his hearing would be. “For a long time, I was told there was no record of my case or me with the court,” he later said in court papers. “No one ever told me when my notice to appear form was filed with the court.”

Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had arrested Alzate and threw him in the Hudson County Jail in Jersey City, they didn’t bring his deportation case to the court for eight days. “This time period was psychological torture for me because I did not know what would happen to me or when,” Alzate said. And his case isn’t uncommon, according to data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review. It took a median of six days for a case to be filed last year, and two weeks after that for a first hearing or bond ruling from an immigration judge. 

In 11 of the 55 courts that heard more than 500 cases last year, detainees were jailed for six weeks or more before an initial hearing. These would be unconstitutional wait times in a criminal context, where general due process rights require authorities file a case and provide an arraignment generally in no longer than 48 hours. “It’s just one more way, I would say, that immigration cases are like the bizarro-world of American justice, where a lot of things that are taken for granted in terms of checks and balances are just not present,” said Michael Kagan, a law professor at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and director of an immigration law clinic. The Daily Beast

In other New York immigration news…

Looters Destroy Immigrant-Owned Business in the Bronx

Looters broke open the glass door of Francisco Araujo’s watch and jewelry store in the Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx, stealing diamond necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings. Araujo believes he lost $150,000 of merchandise. He was planning on opening his store next week when the state’s stay-at-home order was lifted, but now he’s not sure he can. Looters have hit many luxury brand and chain stores since New Yorkers first began protesting the killing of George Floyd. But in the Bronx, the victims were largely immigrant small business owners already hurting from the coronavirus shutdown. The New York Times

Study Shows the Toll of No Driver’s Licenses for Farmworkers

A three-year study by anthropologists from SUNY Geneseo shows that refusing to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants between 2001 and 2020 led to increased social isolation and health risks for immigrant farmworkers and their families in Western and Central New York. From 2001 until January 1, 2020, New York state required all driver’s license applicants to supply a social security number. In their study, Assistant Professor Jennifer Guzmán and Associate Professor Melanie Medeiros found that geographic features impeded farm workers’ mobility, which in turn made it harder for them to perform normal errands like grocery shopping, seeing relatives or going to a doctor. Read the study.

COVID-19 Tracing Efforts Bring Fears of Privacy Invasion

This week, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will be asked to disclose personal information as a part of the City’s COVID-19 contact tracing efforts. But with protests still happening daily and the looming threat of ICE enforcement, there’s widespread distrust of the safety of that data. “People who were at these protests should be concerned that the government could use that data,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in an interview. Further complicating matters is the fact that Mayor Bill de Blasio sidelined the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which has experience with contact tracing in past outbreaks. NYC Health + Hospitals will instead take the lead even though it has little to no experience conducting a program like that. Politico

Max Siegelbaum

Co-executive Director of Documented




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