The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and Bronx Defenders have filed a class-action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging they have jailed immigrants while they await their immigration hearings.
“ICE has secretly decided to detain thousands of New Yorkers unlawfully, inflicting enormous and entirely unnecessary harms,” said Amy Belsher, a staff attorney at the NYCLU.
When a person is arrested on a civil immigration offense, the law requires ICE officers to decide if they should be detained while waiting to see a judge.
“The federal government’s sweeping detention dragnet means that people who pose no flight or safety risk are being jailed as a matter of course — in an unlawful trend that is getting worse,” the lawsuit claims.
“Once denied release under the new policy, people remain unnecessarily incarcerated in local jails for weeks or even months before they have a meaningful opportunity to seek release in a hearing before an Immigration Judge,” the suit adds. “While waiting for those hearings, those detained suffer under harsh conditions of confinement akin to criminal incarceration.”
According to the lawsuit, the number of detainees has risen a lot as the Trump administration targets more immigrants for deportation. The number of people with no criminal convictions arrested in New York went up 414 percent by the end of 2018, compared with 2016.
The plaintiffs allege that changes to a risk algorithm are to blame. The algorithm considers factors like how long a person has been in the country and whether or not they have a criminal history before recommending that they be detained, be released on their own recognizance or released on bond.
Jose Velesaca, the lead plaintiff, was arrested in January after being in the United States for over a decade. He’s detained at the Orange County Correctional Facility.
“Being detained is almost unbearable for Mr. Velesaca. He feels sad, hopeless, and trapped. He is so desperate to get out that at times he has seriously considered giving up his immigration case and being deported just to get out of detention,” the suit says.
The lawsuit calls for a judge to require ICE to do individual custody decisions for each detainee and release those who are aren’t a flight risk or danger to the community.