Back to All Commentary

ICE is Keeping Immigrants Locked Up for Months Before They See a Judge


The Trump administration is forcing immigrant New Yorkers to sit behind bars for months before they get a chance to see a judge and plead their case.

More than one thousand people are detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in New York City each year, and that number is growing. Many of these immigrants are eligible for release while their cases proceed and shouldn’t be locked up at all.

Working with the Immigration Justice Clinic at the Cardozo School of Law and The Bronx Defenders, the NYCLU filed a class action lawsuit earlier this month arguing that this prolonged detention is yet another example of the Trump administration trampling on immigrants’ rights and keeping families separated. The suit challenges the unconstitutional practice of jailing immigrant New Yorkers for months before bringing them in front of a judge to assess whether they should be detained, what options for relief they might have, and, in many cases, meet their lawyers for the first time.

The amount of time people are forced to wait in criminal jails for their immigration proceedings to start is egregious, and it is only getting worse. The time between when people are detained and when they see a judge for the first time has grown from less two weeks in 2014 to nearly three months today.

Based on the most recent available government data, 72 percent of people are detained for over a month before their first appearance in immigration court, and 33 percent are detained for over three months before they get to see a judge.

Nearly half of the people detained by ICE who sit in jail for months before seeing an immigration judge go on to win their cases against deportation. Nearly one in ten turn out not to be subject to deportation at all—some because they are U.S. citizens.

The amount of time people are forced to wait in criminal jails for their immigration proceedings to start is egregious, and it is only getting worse. 

There is no comparison for this type of cruelty, even in our uniquely brutal criminal justice system. When people are arrested by the police, they can only be held for up to 48 hours before a judge determines whether or not they will be detained while their case proceeds. But when they are detained by ICE, immigrants are locked up for months before seeing a judge—in the same criminal jails. These people have no way to speed up how quickly their hearings happen or to plead their case for release while they wait.

Keeping these people in jail for several months or even weeks can destroy their lives. People lose their jobs, families have trouble making rent payments or even lose their homes, and families struggle to find child care.

And after suffering months of imprisonment and despair, some immigrants decide it’s just not worth it. Even those with strong legal defenses lose hope, give up, and simply accept a deportation order because they cannot stay in jail any longer. That is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the Trump administration is keeping people locked up for so long, hoping immigrants will give up and leave.

But these delays are not just cruel policy, they are illegal. The lawsuit demands that the court intervene to make sure that immigrants are brought before a judge promptly, just like the law and the constitution require.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union