In New York, hundreds of migrants have found themselves in difficult conditions desperately trying to obtain immigration services. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported that it could only serve 600 people a day. Even those with appointments and those whose asylum deadlines are running out remain blocked and at risk, reports the city
Since the number of migrants arriving in the United States began to rise, the office ICE became a place of chaotic movement and long waits. Many come hoping to get asylum or have their cases heard, but they often find it difficult to figure out which line to get into. Immigrants complain that procedures are insufficiently explained and that there is confusion. Sometimes they can't get into the building even if they have an appointment.
Hundreds of people lined the sidewalk of Federal Plaza on Monday, September 18, waiting for the work day to begin and the doors of the immigration office to open.
Leslie Descalzu arrived from Levittown on Long Island shortly before XNUMX a.m., leaving her children behind. She spent two and a half hours on the road. The Peruvian native arrived in New York a week ago from California and was hoping to update her address. She was among dozens of people who were denied entry into the building. ICE officials reported that the office was filled to capacity.
“They don’t value your time here, the fact that you came here, and everything you left behind. They don’t give you any explanation,” she said in Spanish. “Send a message by email, follow the [QR] code and that’s it.”
Confusion and unrest
ICE officers tell migrants to leave the line and make an appointment on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Some visitors without an appointment entered the building, while those who made an appointment were unable to get in because they were told the office was full.
ICE officials say they can handle about 600 people a day and are physically unable to handle everyone in line. They pay special attention to the elderly, pregnant women, and those with medical conditions.
Jody Ziesemer, an attorney with the New York Legal Assistance Group, which helps people with asylum claims, said visitors are denied entry for ICE screening or immigration court hearings, often for minor reasons. According to her, failure to appear at a court hearing could result in a person being denied asylum.
“This is a violation of the Constitution,” says Zizemer. “When I talk to people about this, they cannot believe that there are such dire consequences for not showing up. No one will pay attention to the fact that a person did not show up only because access to the building was closed.”
Queue until 2030
Due to the influx of migrants, Border Patrol agents often release migrants who cross the U.S. border without processing, requiring them to register with ICE within 60 days. However, Ziesemer said when she tries to help people sign up on the ICE website, appointments could be scheduled for 2030, or even later. She said this adds to the confusion and panic migrants experience as they navigate the asylum process.
An ICE spokesperson said the Enforcement and Removal Operations office in New York currently has family bookings for January 2025, down from the office's previous occupancy until 2033 and bookings for single adults through June. 2030.
“Non-citizens who have hearings before an immigration judge are not turned away, although lines to enter the building can be very long. EOIR is working to improve the entry situation, including adding more bilingual security guards and increasing signage. Our immigration judges are aware of this issue and take it into account when conducting hearings.”
Lawyers who work for free are overworked
New York has one of the lowest rates of judge denials of asylum cases compared to other cities with immigration courts, which advocates attribute to migrants' greater access to free legal services. In the current fiscal year, immigration court judges have denied asylum claims in just 16% of cases, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which is significantly lower than the 51,4% failure rate nationwide.
Since a wave of migrants poured into the city last year, these legal services have been overwhelmed.
Organization Catholic Charities has been managing the Immigration Court Help Desk for several years at three city locations, rotating between the Federal Plaza building and the Varick Street and 290 Broadway immigration courts in Manhattan. The Help Desk is staffed by lawyers and paralegals to help those trying to navigate the immigration system.
Aid groups have had difficulty gaining access to the Federal Plaza building, which has become like a fortress. Lauren Wyatt, Managing Associate Catholic Charities Community Services, said her organization had suspended its presence in the building since June after its employees encountered difficulties accessing the building. Wyatt said they will return to the Federal Plaza building starting next month, but in the meantime they will alternate between Varick and Broadway courts. Migrants assigned to any of the three vessels can visit the aid station.
However, Wyatt says the number of people seeking help is increasing dramatically and exceeding the group's capacity to provide advice. If a year ago they turned away 20-30 people a day, now by 9 o’clock in the morning they turn away 50 visitors. Families who have been queuing since XNUMX a.m. cannot even get help from the help desk because others have arrived even earlier, she said.
People spend the night outside with their children to get to appointments, so emotions run high. According to Wyatt, they are very upset: “I've been waiting here since five in the morning. What do you mean you won’t receive me today?” And ICE officers are forced to answer: “Well, this person has been waiting since three o’clock.”
Difficulties in design
The turmoil in immigration courts could have consequences for recently arrived migrants, who have just a year from entering the country to file a claim for asylum.
The application form is a complex 12-page document in English that requires specific details. Wyatt added that there is confusion about whether applications should be made to USCIS or the Justice Department's immigration courts, since both handle asylum claims.
Most people waiting in line at Federal Plaza entered the country at the border without filing a case in immigration court, so they need to check in to have ICE create their paperwork and then file a case in immigration court, she said.
While the state and city have made efforts to help people navigate the asylum process, Ziesemer said, “there has been no parallel effort or attention at the federal level to address any issues or concerns.”