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Immigrants See No Clear Path Outside 26 Federal Plaza

Advocates fear disarray stemming from the ICE check-In line could lead to missed immigration court dates.


Giulia McDonell Nieto Del Rio 

December 15, 2022

Excerpt from original article:

The young woman arrived outside 26 Federal Plaza around 5 a.m. for her immigration court hearing. For several hours she stood in line for her scheduled court appointment, not knowing she was waiting in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) check-in line and not the line for court.

By the time the woman entered the building later in the day, she had completely missed her hearing. The judge issued her a deportation order.

“It was too late,” said Michelle Martinez, a supervising staff attorney at the Central American Legal Assistance (CALA) group, who assisted the woman, an asylum-seeker from South America, earlier this year.

In recent months, more than 26,000 migrants have arrived in New York City, overwhelming the New York ICE office. However, advocates and attorneys say the ICE check-in situation outside 26 Federal Plaza, which houses the City’s ICE Office for check-ins, the City’s busiest immigration court, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, has caused additional confusion for immigrants facing court hearings.

If a person misses their immigration court date — as was the case with the young woman helped by CALA — a judge often automatically issues an “in-absentia” deportation order. If the order is not resolved, which is most easily done with the help of a lawyer, individuals could be deported to their home country.

For the judge to rescind a removal order, individuals must file a motion to reopen their case. In cases where someone was at the courthouse, this process can include submitting evidence, like photos, to prove they were there.

“It makes all the difference to have an attorney and to know who to reach out to, and try to diligently get this solved,” Martinez said. “Otherwise, you have an order of removal against you, and with the more time that goes by, the harder it could be to reopen it.”

To fight the deportation order, the woman searched for legal help from CALA. Martinez said a judge eventually granted the motion to reopen the woman’s case, and she will have another chance to appear in court. But the challenges she faced were unnecessary, Martinez said.

“It could have been so easily avoided,” she said. “People are simply trying to comply with their appointments and their obligations, and instead are met with this disorganized chaos when they get there.”

For many who come to 26 Federal Plaza, the difference between the ICE check-in line and the line for immigration court dates may not be clear. The line for ICE check-ins sometimes begins the night before, as hundreds of people gather on one side of the building. Around the corner is the line for immigration court with crucial differences — it’s shorter, begins later, and moves more quickly as people are let in for their appointment times.

An absence of signage for the separate lines, a dearth of attorneys to guide individuals through the processes, and a lack of adequate instructions in native languages have left many susceptible to missteps with potentially drastic consequences.

Evangeline Chan, the director of the Immigration Law Project at Safe Horizon, has been practicing immigration law for more than a decade in New York. But the extraordinarily long lines were something new to her. “Those kinds of lines, I don’t remember ever seeing,” Chan said.

Read the full article here.