MANHATTAN (CN) – An advocacy group for immigrants demands statistics from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about nationwide increases in detentions, deportations and transfers – particularly transfers away from legal representation. Families for Freedom claims that ICE demanded $1.3 million to respond to its FOIA request for the information.
Families for Freedom claims that ICE’s demand for money denies “service providers, advocates, policy makers and the public at large from fully understanding or being able to respond to the impact of detention and deportation on a sizeable population.”
“Although ICE has acknowledged that detentions and removals are reaching record highs across the nation, the public currently lacks access to crucial information about who is being apprehended, and where detainees are being held,” Families for Freedom claims in its federal FOIA complaint.
“This lack of transparency has rendered statistically invisible a significant segment of communities around the country. In New York, with its large immigrant communities, the missing information is preventing service providers, advocates, policy makers and the public at large from fully understanding or being able to respond to the impact of detention and deportation on a sizeable population.”
Families for Freedom claims that ICE has been withholding records about immigration enforcement, and legal representation of New Yorkers, and that there is limited data available about the nationwide increase in immigration detentions and deportations.
A “record” 383,524 foreign nationals were detained by ICE in fiscal year 2009, and about 280,000 of those detained were deported – a 10 percent increase from 2008, according to the complaint.
(Detention should not be confused with arrest – many Mexicans who are voluntarily repatriated would be counted in arrest statistics but not as detainees.)
The nonprofit claims that in August it filed its Freedom of Information Act request for records from 2005 to the present, but ICE denied its requests for fee waiver and expedited processing.
In September, ICE reported that the estimated fee for processing the request would be $1.3 million, according to the complaint.
Families for Freedom appealed ICE’s decision in October, but the government agency has not responded to the appeal within the 20-day window.
Families for Freedom seeks information on “designated New Yorkers,” which is the name given to people whom ICE is removing from the country. The group says it is especially concerned about designated New Yorkers whose proceedings are occurring outside of the New York immigration court system.
More than 3 million foreign-born residents live in New York City, according to the complaint, but data show there is an increase in the number of detainees who have been transferred outside of their original jurisdiction, “often to facilities far from their families and legal representatives.”
“ICE transfers have skyrocketed in recent years,” Families for Freedom claims. “The number of immigrants transferred to detention facilities in different jurisdictions has more than quadrupled since 1999, and doubled since 2005. In 2007, there were over 250,000 transfers, and a recent study estimated that over 300,000 transfers took place in 2008.”
Immigrants are often transferred to detention facilities in the South or the Southwest, where pro-bono legal representation is not as readily available as in urban centers, the advocacy group claims.
While the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan received only 13,814 transfers, the 5th Circuit in New Orleans received 261,959, according to the complaint.
In addition to statistics about transferred cases, Families for Freedom seeks information about detainees who are deported without judicial review through stipulated, administrative and expedited removal. Like transfers, these types of removal procedures are on the rise, according to the complaint.
Families for Freedom says there is very little information available about all of these groups.
“New Yorkers are unable to assess how many immigrants from their communities are transferred, where they are sent and how this information correlates with the immigration status of detainees, their criminal history, their nation of origin, their age, their medical needs and a myriad of other characteristics,” according to the complaint.
Families for Freedom says these statistics should be released so that it and other advocacy groups can better advise clients about ICE’s transfer policies.
Immigrants represented by counsel are three to four times more likely to win in court, national studies show, according to the complaint.
In addition to fewer legal resources, immigrants confront many other obstacles when their case is transferred, Families for Freedom claims. Some immigrants lose the opportunity to qualify for a bond and be released while their case is pending; their attorneys may never receive notice about the transfer; and their file may become incomplete by the time it makes it to a new court.
The information would also improve government accountability, according to the complaint.
Without knowing how immigrants in New York are treated after they are apprehended by ICE, elected officials and communities are forced to make public policy decisions in the dark, Families for Freedom claims.
Some of the data that is available comes from the Executive Office of Immigration Review, but there is no way to identify immigrants in New York or whether any of the immigrants face deportation without a judicial hearing, according to the complaint.
“The information requested by the plaintiff, when combined with the EOIR data currently accessible to researchers such as the Vera Institute, would allow, for the first time, an accurate assessment of ICE’s policies in the New York district that accounts for these vulnerable populations,” the complaint states.
Families for Freedom claims that researchers at the Vera Institute can match the requested information with the Alien Registration Numbers of every immigrant whose case comes before an immigration judge.
The group seeks immediate access to the records and an injunction to bar ICE from charging assessing or processing fees. It is represented by Nancy Morawetz with Washington Square Legal Services.