Protesters Demand Restraints on Federal Involvement in Immigration Enforcement in New York City Jails
October 21, 2010 By Alison Bowen
NEW YORK — Too many Latinos in New York City are silently disappearing after entering city jails, activists said Tuesday at a downtown New York rally.
After crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, an estimated 1,000 people rallied at City Hall, demanding that the city stop cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Standing near Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office, City Council members and mothers with sons jailed on Rikers Island demanded that he stop allowing the Department of Corrections to cooperate with ICE.
“You cannot talk about how proud you are to be a mayor of an immigrant city … and then allow ICE to detain and deport people who have done no wrong,” City Council Member Brad Lander said.
In New York, federal ICE agents are stationed at Rikers Island, where they are available to check the immigration status of prisoners. Although New York City police officers cannot ask whether prisoners are here legally, they often deduce inmates’ home countries and pass along the information.
Opponents have long argued that this matching of city officials with federal authority inappropriately snags people who are innocent or caught in jail for minor violations.
At the rally, a mariachi band punctuated the space between speakers.
One woman spoke of her fear for her son, imprisoned in Rikers. She says he’s innocent, and she worries for him if he’s deported because he’s gay and was persecuted in Mexico.
“The saddest part of this is that I know after we win his case and prove his innocence, ICE is still going to deport him,” she said.
Members of Make the Road, a grassroots group that planned the rally, asked the City Council to push legislation to limit federal authority. Speakers also demanded the city opt out of Secure Communities, a program led by ICE that checks arrestees’ fingerprints with immigration databases.
Earlier this month, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reiterated that she would not let communities choose whether to enter the program.
Meanwhile, Senator Orrin Hatch (R—UT) recently introduced a bill that would require cities to enroll in Secure Communities or 287(g), a similar program that pairs local law enforcement agencies with ICE officers.
As many as 4,000 people are sent to ICE custody each year in New York, Make the Road reports. People transferred to ICE are often sent to detention facilities in other parts of the country, like Texas or Louisiana, while their families might not know they left the state.
Luis, a speaker at the rally, was one of those thousands who was arrested, detained and sent to Texas to wait and see whether he’d be deported. Back in New York and in college, he spoke about constantly fearing deportation to Mexico, which he hasn’t seen since he was nine.
“If I’m deported I’ll be sent to a country where I don’t know anyone,” he told the crowd.
Rocio Otilia Rios, standing in the front row, said she attended to support friends who suffered under the federal-local alliance. Friends were deported suddenly, she said, leaving their children alone.
“It’s a discrimination,” she said in Spanish.
Another speaker, James Kelly, pastor of St. Brigid Church in Brooklyn, often has parishioners approach him for help because he’s also a lawyer. This leaves him responsible for explaining when parents are detained or deported.
“I have to tell these kids every day,” he said.
About Alison Bowen
Alison is a Missouri native and New York City freelance writer who has wanted to cover Latin America since studying Spanish in Central America. After moving to Brooklyn, her work has appeared in The New York Times, the Daily News, the Manhattan Times and Women’s eNews. She earned a master’s degree in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies at New York University. Her thesis focused on immigration policies after September 11, including counterterrorism measures, and their effects on the daily lives of immigrants in New York City.