Velesaca v. Wolf

The New York Civil Liberties Union and The Bronx Defenders today announced a federal class-action lawsuit challenging a recently-enacted policy of New York City-area federal immigration officials of jailing virtually all of the thousands of people they have arrested over the last three years. Before this policy, nearly half of those arrested on civil immigration offenses and deemed a low risk by the government were quickly released back to their families and communities while their immigration cases moved forward.

The NYCLU uncovered the practice as the result of a FOIA request it submitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  After being forced to sue ICE in federal court for denying the request, the NYCLU obtained data revealing that starting in 2017, ICE’s New York Field Office has all but eliminated bond or release for people awaiting immigration hearings. From 2013 to June 2017, approximately 47 percent of those deemed to be low risk by the government were granted release. From June 2017 to September 2019, that figure plummeted to three percent.

Federal law requires ICE officers to make individualized custody determinations based on whether the person poses a flight risk or threat to public safety. Since 2013, the agency has used a risk assessment tool that considers factors like a person’s family ties, connections to community, time in the country and community, and criminal history. However, the data shows that this tool, which ICE offices use nationwide, was manipulated, most recently in mid-2017, to remove its ability to recommend anyone be released. The tool can now only make one substantive recommendation: detention without bond.

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