Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Despite New York’s policies to protect immigrants, new analyses of federal immigration enforcement show how and why it is in many ways becoming more aggressive.
Some U.S. cities have been using two strategies to blunt the force of the federal government’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The first: instituting policies (loosely called “sanctuary policies”) that limit cooperation of local jails and police departments with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—thus cutting off a primary pipeline to deportations. The second is providing legal aid for immigrants in deportation proceedings. In New York, one such program has led to a 1,100 percent increase in immigration cases that have a favorable outcome for the immigrant.
Of course, even with these policies, immigrants in diverse cities like New York are not safe from federal enforcement. And two new reports seek to shed light on how the federal government’s self-professed unshackling of ICE has been playing out despite local protective policies.
First up: a report and interactive map by the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which analyzes 650 raids going back as far as 2013. The majority of the mapped operations are from New York state—collected through Freedom of Information Act requests, collaborations with local advocacy groups, and through the two legal aid programs in the city—but they “reflect national trends,” the report reads.
Based on this data, IDP concludes that ICE’s tactics include entering homes without gaining the required voluntary consent, and through misleading ruses, like pretending to be local police. The agency gains access to its targets through surveillance of immigrant communities, and often by using—or threatening to use—force. While these tactics were in play in the much-criticized raids under former President Barack Obama too, they appear to be more aggressive under the current administration, the report argues. Since the Trump administration broadened the scope of the types of people it seeks to deport, ICE agents have also been much more liberal about arresting people who they happen to come across while looking for their primary targets—sweeping up low-hanging fruit in order to up their arrest numbers in the field.
In IDP’s map, the marked raids are color coded by these tactics. And while the locations of these incidents are approximate, some trends are clear to see: More and more, ICE is arresting individuals at courthouses, spaces advocates and judges have been arguing should be off-limits because raids there intimidate witnesses and jeopardize judicial processes. For example, the screenshot below shows a cluster of arrests at the New York County Criminal Court in Tribeca:
ICE has also been conducting raids at homes and workplaces in immigrant-rich neighborhoods around the city—in Queens and the Bronx, for example. (Click through to read the individual accounts.) Below is an account from Jackson Heights, Queens:
“ICE relies on fear-mongering, secrecy, deceit, manipulation, and force to enact its devastating deportation mandate to deport as many people as possible,” said Genia Blaser, IDP’s senior staff attorney in a statement. “By making the reports of their dehumanizing tactics widely available through [this map], we aim to inform the public and community members around the escalation of ‘unshackled’ ICE policing.”
The other report comes in the form of a collaboration between The Marshall Project and New York magazine, and focuses on how immigrant lives have changed in New York City under the Trump administration. Pulling from 100 interviews with immigrants, advocates, and lawyers, the two publications document arrests that occurred during green card interviews, pizza delivery, and even on honeymoons. Some numbers from the story:
In the eight months following Donald Trump’s inauguration, ICE arrests in the region jumped by 67 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, and arrests of immigrants with no criminal convictions increased 225 percent. During that time, ICE arrested 2,031 people in its New York “area of responsibility,” which includes the five boroughs and surrounding counties. These aren’t unprecedented numbers: ICE arrested almost four times as many people in 2010 in New York as it did last year, and it picks up far fewer people here than in other parts of the country.
The story also includes experiences of immigrants in detention in locally-run immigrant jails in upstate New York and across the river in New Jersey. (ICE’s statement to The Marshall Project confirms that the agency intends to arrest and detain “all of those in violation of the immigration laws”—but hold them in “safe, secure, and humane environments.”)
Over the last few months, especially since the outrage over the administration’s child removal policy reached crescendo, calls to abolish ICE have been getting louder. At the local level, meanwhile, activists are pressuring city governments to take the idea of sanctuary policies even further—to end contracts to jail immigrants, sever data-sharing agreements, and pressure big companies from withdrawing technical support.