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Fighting for the Rights and Safety of Immigrants
Photo by Sy Klipsch-Abudu

PROTECT & PROMOTE EQUALITY

Fighting for the Rights and Safety of Immigrants

New York’s impressive diversity, built on one of the largest immigrant populations in the nation, is key to its identity. Yet with the double assault of the Trump Administration’s relentless anti-immigrant policies and the COVID-19 pandemic, New York immigrants and asylum seekers have never been more at risk.

Throughout 2020, we fought to defend the rights of immigrants within New York state and around the country, achieving a number of victories and rolling back odious practices that trapped detainees in a cruel and capricious system. Underscoring the urgency of our legal efforts was the reality that detention centers are hotbeds of COVID transmission, making even a brief period of incarceration especially treacherous. Our many emergency legal actions led to the release of vulnerable people across the state.

Highlights from the past year include:

  • In March, we filed a class action lawsuit with Equal Justice Under the Law that challenged the unfair bond-hearing practices of immigration courts and individual judges in Batavia and Buffalo that disadvantage detainees. And in May, we partnered with Prisoners Legal Services of New York to file a federal class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia demanding that medically at-risk detainees either receive treatment and protection in compliance with the CDC’s COVID-related guidelines or be released.
  • Also in March, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to halt ICE’s unethical and illegal “no-release policy” as a result of a class action lawsuit brought by the NYCLU and the Bronx Defenders. Via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, we had learned that ICE’s New York field office manipulated its risk assessment algorithm so that releases of arrested immigrants plummeted from 47 percent pre-June 2017 to three percent throughout the Trump Administration. After these rigged assessments, detainees were being held for excessive lengths of time before their court dates, a potentially lethal situation in the context of COVID. This court victory required ICE to revert to its previous practices, though as of December we were still fighting for court enforcement of the changes since ICE was defying the order.
  • Over the summer, the NYCLU filed suit challenging the Trump Administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which consistently put asylum seekers at the southern border at risk by allowing Customs and Border Protection to return them to Mexico while they waited months for their claims to be processed.
  • In November, a federal judge ruled that ICE must present detained immigrants before a judge within 10 days of arrest, ending the practice of holding them for weeks and even months without allowing them to contest their detention in a grave violation of their due process rights. The ruling was the result of a 2018 NYCLU-backed class action lawsuit brought on behalf of the one-to-two thousand immigrant New Yorkers detained by ICE’s New York field office every year. This sets a humane new standard by which immigrants—many of them long-term U.S. residents with children—have access to quick hearings and legal counsel.

< Back to Strategic Initiatives

In addition to litigation, the NYCLU is working with several partners to drive a legislative and grassroots advocacy campaign to pass the New York for All Act, which would ensure that local law enforcement resources cannot be used to support vicious ICE practices that harm immigrant families. Read more about our unwavering efforts to protect the rights of New York’s vulnerable immigrant population.