Back to All Press Release

Class Action Lawsuit Challenges Months-Long ICE Detentions Before First Court Appearance


NEW YORK – Cardozo Law Immigration Justice Clinic, The New York Civil Liberties Union, and The Bronx Defenders filed a putative class action lawsuit today against the U.S. government — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 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.

“People arrested by ICE and detained in criminal jails in New York and New Jersey are detained for months, simply waiting for a first hearing before a judge who can determine whether or not they should even be locked up,” said Jessica Kulig from the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law. “This practice violates the fundamental due process rights of more than a thousand people every year.”

Petitioner-Plaintiff Uriel Vazquez Perez is one of the many individuals who faces the prospect of months of ICE detention before having an opportunity to see a judge. He is a 43-year-old father and husband who has lived in New York for nearly two decades. He has been detained at the Orange County Correctional Facility, where ICE rents bed space, since October 30, 2018. He has not yet been afforded an opportunity to see a judge.

The Trump administration’s dragnet immigration enforcement tactics have dramatically increased the number of immigrants arrested in the New York area, creating a bottleneck that has intensified these unprecedented delays. One to two thousand people are detained by the ICE field office in New York each year and held in county jails in New York and New Jersey. They include people who have been in the country for decades, those who were brought here as children, asylum seekers fleeing persecution, and people with permanent residency.

Based on the most recent available government data for New York:

  • 72 percent of people are detained for over two months before their first appearance in immigration court.
  • 33 percent are detained for over three months before they get to see a judge.

The time between when people are detained and when they see a judge for the first time has gone from under two weeks in 2014 to well over two months today. These unprecedented delays in access to judges unlawfully extend the detention of all ICE detainees in the New York area.

“Hundreds of immigrants, including some who have lived here for decades or have green cards, are routinely forced to languish in jail for months before even seeing a judge,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of The New York Civil Liberties Union. “We are suing to ensure that immigrants are brought before a judge promptly, in accordance with existing immigration procedures and basic due process.” 

Many of the people subject to this prolonged detention are eligible for release while their cases proceed or shouldn’t be detained at all. 40 percent of individuals arrested by ICE will be released on bond when they see a judge but needlessly spend months in jail waiting for their first court date. Other people should not have been arrested in the first place, because they are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who are not deportable, but they have no way to win release during the months they are held in detention without access to a judge.

Tearing individuals from their communities and families results in immense emotional turmoil for all involved.

  • On average, petitioners have lived in the United States for 16 years when ICE arrests them and places them in removal proceedings. Almost a third (30 percent) are lawful permanent residents.
  • 47 percent report have children living with them in the United States. Detained parents have an average of two children and report that 86 percent of those children had some form of legal status, primarily U.S. citizenship.

“This lawsuit challenges the injustice and harm experienced by immigrants who are forced to endure long periods of detention before being brought in front of a judge,” said Niji Jain, Impact Litigation attorney at The Bronx Defenders. “More than a thousand immigrant New Yorkers are needlessly grappling with the loss of their liberty and painful separation from their families due to this unconstitutional practice.”

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