In a frantic 911 call from the street outside the Brooklyn, N.Y., Supreme Court, a bystander reported that she had just witnessed a kidnapping. Several men in plain clothes had just appeared, slamming a man against a wall and separating him from his attorney.
Refusing to identify themselves and claiming to be “doing their jobs,” they forced the man into an unmarked car with no plates and sped off.
In fact, what she and others had just witnessed was a commonplace operation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforce (ICE) agents.
According to the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), despite internal regulations to the contrary, ICE agents regularly refuse to identify themselves or provide reason for detentions.
In a recent study, the IDP reports that the federal agency strategically targets New York courthouses for arrests of undocumented immigrants, a move which it argues will have a chilling effect on immigrants’ willingness to collaborate with courts across the state.
Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, these detentions are no longer reserved for undocumented individuals facing criminal charges. Rather, ICE has declared open season on the broader undocumented community, including those who appear in court as survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence, youth covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), and friends and family members of those appearing in court.
This is happening despite language on the ICE’s website, which outlines official policy regarding courthouse actions. According to the ICE, “courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails.”
But its guidelines promise to avoid “indiscriminate” arrests:
Civil immigration enforcement actions taken inside courthouses can reduce safety risks to the public, targeted alien(s), and ICE officers and agents…ICE will not make civil immigration arrests inside courthouses indiscriminately.
ICE civil immigration enforcement actions inside courthouses include actions against specific, targeted aliens with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats, aliens who have been ordered removed from the United States but have failed to depart (fugitives), and aliens who have re-entered the country illegally after being removed.
Through calls to IDP’s hotline and the reports of legal aid partner organizations such as the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, the IDP reports a 1,700 percent increase in immigrant detentions from 2016 to 2018, and a 17 percent increase from 2017 to 2018.
New York City accounted for 75 percent of total arrests across the state, with the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens reporting the highest totals.
While the bulk of ICE arrests occur in New York City, in 2018 ICE also extended operations into several previously untouched upstate counties, including Renssalaer, Fulton, and Orange.
While arrests have gained ground across the state, they have also increased in the use of physical force and aggressive surveillance tactics, according to IDP.
“Reports of ICE using violent force to conduct arrests—slamming family members against walls, dragging individuals from cars, and even pulling guns on people leaving court—have become commonplace.
“Witnesses to ICE arrests have called 911 to report that they were witnessing a kidnapping. ICE has also turned to more aggressive surveillance, trailing attorneys to their offices and eavesdropping on confidential attorney-client conversations.”
IDP argues that these emerging trends “underline ICE’s increasing reliance on the state’s court system as a place to trap and detain immigrant New Yorkers.’
The full report can be downloaded here.
Roman Gressier is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.