This story is a collaboration with The Marshall Project.
An estimated half a million New Yorkers are undocumented. Whether they’ve lived here for two months or 20 years, they came to this city of immigrants — a place where more than a third of the population was born in another country — looking for the same things that have brought newcomers here for centuries: work and school opportunities, religious freedom, family, and a haven from violence, persecution, political upheaval, and natural disaster.
In this “sanctuary city,” the local government promises to defend New Yorkers regardless of status, restricting law-enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents (although not prohibiting it entirely, to the chagrin of many immigrant advocates). But in recent months, amid headlines about terrified toddlers in “baby jails” and a president who refers to migrants as an “infestation,” it’s become increasingly clear that even New York City doesn’t feel safe for the undocumented.
Now these are everyday scenes in the city: A Ecuadoran man gets arrested while delivering pizza in Brooklyn. A Chinese father of two is detained during an interview to become a legal permanent resident. Across the boroughs, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have appeared in courthouses, workplaces, neighborhood streets, even a church, according to one advocacy group, sowing panic.
In the eight months following Donald Trump’s inauguration, ICE arrests in the region jumped by 67 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, and arrests of immigrants with no criminal convictions increased 225 percent. During that time, ICE arrested 2,031 people in its New York “area of responsibility,” which includes the five boroughs and surrounding counties. These aren’t unprecedented numbers: ICE arrested almost four times as many people in 2010 in New York as it did last year, and it picks up far fewer people here than in other parts of the country.
Thanks to free legal assistance, in which Mayor de Blasio has invested $30 million, New York–area immigrants are also more likely than their counterparts elsewhere in the United States to be represented in court. (Eighty percent in Queens versus, say, 39 percent in South Carolina.) Partly as a result, they’re also less likely to get deported, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Among the five U.S. counties with the most immigration cases, Queens had the highest proportion of immigrants who were granted deportation relief and the lowest proportion ordered removed from the country.
Despite all of that, Trump’s immigration crackdown has instilled a new level of fear throughout the city. Before he took office, many undocumented immigrants who were considered low priority for deportation — because they didn’t have criminal records, for example —were allowed to stay as long as they regularly reported to immigration authorities. But Trump has expanded the number of people considered a priority for deportation. Now people whose only offense is staying in the country illegally are being flagged for removal.
Those who are arrested are often subjected to inhumane conditions in overcrowded detention facilities while they await deportation proceedings, which can take months or even years. Although many manage to stave off deportation with the help of a lawyer, scrambling to pay the thousands of dollars in legal fees, others are not so lucky. Flown to countries where they may not have lived in decades, the deported often arrive with no money, no phone, no place to stay. Back in New York, their absences, often dizzyingly sudden, leave children, spouses, friends, churches, and entire communities reeling — and wondering who could disappear next.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that many immigrant New Yorkers who for years have tried to do the right thing — like paying taxes and checking in with ICE — are retreating into the shadows. “This Trump administration came in, even the permanent residents, even the people who have their status, they have this fear,” says Youngmin Lo, 35, an undocumented South Korean pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Maspeth, Queens. “And the people who are undocumented, I think they realize it’s time to hide.”
To understand what life is like for undocumented New Yorkers and their loved ones, the Marshall Project and New York contacted more than 100 people around the city — immigrants, lawyers, and advocates. There was the 23-year-old undocumented Dominican woman from the Bronx who was detained on her honeymoon in Niagara Falls. The Manhattan teenager too shaken to tell her best friends that her father had been deported to Gambia. The bright middle-school student in Harlem who suddenly disappeared; an aunt told the school that her family had fled to Canada. “Palpable fear has just become part of their lives at this point,” says Constance Bond, principal of St. hope Leadership Academy Charter School in Harlem, about her students from immigrant families — as it has for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. —Geraldine Sealey
UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS HAVE ALWAYS LIVED WITH THE FEAR OF DEPORTATION. BUT NOW THE FEAR IS UNMISTAKABLE.
For one woman, a honeymoon turned into a nightmare.
Angelica Herrera De Leon, 23, Dominican Republic
“We married on September 15, 2017. My mom booked a trip for us to Buffalo. Because of my status, we had to go by bus. We went to Niagara Falls on the U.S. side. We had a wonderful weekend.
On our way back, we fell asleep, but then I realized the bus wasn’t moving. I saw the driver inside the bus station with the border agents. I knew that was it: They were getting on the bus. There were four agents. One started asking everybody where they were from. When he came to us, I wasn’t going to lie. I’m before God’s eyes. First, he asked my husband, and my husband told him he was from the Dominican Republic and he was a resident. He took his residence card. Then he said to me, ‘Are you here legally or not?’ He took my Hostos [Community College] ID, which was the only ID I had with me, and also my date of birth. I guess he had a little computer or something, and then he said that we had to get off the bus.
Once I got off, he said, ‘Okay, this is what’s going to happen: You’re going to be deported in the next two weeks.’ I told him I was married. But he said he didn’t have anything on file, so that wasn’t going to help me. Literally those words. My husband had already done his fingerprints for his naturalization. He was only waiting for the exam. My husband was basically freaking out. He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know where to go, he didn’t know who to call. They say, ‘Oh, if you want to go back on the bus, you are free to do so because you are legally here.’ But he said, ‘I’m not going to leave my wife.’ He didn’t even speak, he just started crying.”
Status: Her deportation case is currently in court.
He fled gay-bashers only to be put in handcuffs at JFK.
Edafe Okporo, 29, Nigeria
“I was working for LGBT people in Nigeria. I was found with a guy I was having a relationship with. They broke into the apartment, dragged me out into the street, and beat me.
I discovered that the United States grants asylum to gay men from countries where being gay is criminalized. I had gotten a travel visa to attend a conference in the U.S. When I arrived at JFK, I walked over to an Immigration officer and said, ‘I am fearful for my life.’ I was put in handcuffs and thrown in the back of a bus. I was ashamed of myself. People saw me in chains, even people I took the same flight with. Maybe they thought I was a drug dealer or criminal.
I didn’t know where they were taking me. There was a little window at the back of the bus, but I was handcuffed at the waist and legs. The lights on the George Washington Bridge were the only thing I could see.”
Status: He was ultimately granted asylum but says he is fearful that any legal slipup could get him deported.
An ICE Raid in Bushwick
In April, ICE swept up 225 immigrants in the New York area during a six-day operation, including this Mexican immigrant in Bushwick. At least 45 of those arrested had no outstanding criminal issue.
Nine Ways Trump Has Made It Harder on Immigrants
1. Rescinded DACA, barring those who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children from receiving work permits; judges overturned the ban, at least for now.
2. Rescinded the Temporary Protected Status program; immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador are losing their status and must prepare to leave.
3. Reduced the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to about one-half of what it was in 2016.
4. Launched a denaturalization initiative aimed at those suspected of having lied on their applications.
5. Disqualified victims of domestic violence and gang-related violence for asylum.
6. Tripled the number of pages in green-card applications.
7. Increased red tape for employers hiring H-1B-visa candidates — applications dropped 20 percent from 2016 to 2018.
8. Proposed a rule barring the spouses of H-1B-visa holders from legally working.
9. Added security screenings for immigrants and those applying for visas that have caused “significant and expensive delays,” according to one immigration attorney.
THEY CAN HIDE FROM ICE OR CONFRONT IT.
Some are learning how to film ICE raids.
“If ICE knocks on your door, you have to ask them, ‘Where’s the paper signed by the judge?,’ No. 1. No. 2: ‘Who are you looking for?’ If it’s not you, it’s not an indication for you to open the door. If they get into your house, you got a right to remain silent. I’ll tell them, ‘I’m not allowing you to touch anything in my house.’ ”
The Right Way to Film a Raid
How to Document an ICE Encounter
As immigration arrests have increased, homemade videos have been used to stay or throw out deportation orders, says Palika Makam, a program coordinator for Witness.
→ Get several angles, both close-ups and wide-angle shots, and capture local landmarks to corroborate details: street signs, clocks that show the current time.
→ Focus your camera on the ICE agent, not the person being arrested or detained. If you can’t, you can use the face-blurring tool on YouTube.
→ Don’t narrate: anything said or learned about the person being arrested or detained could be used against them in court. If you do feel inclined to narrate, stick to objective facts.
→ Know your rights, but also know when not to use them. When a jumpy ICE agent holding a Taser says to turn off your camera, sometimes it’s best to listen. “No footage is ever worth your safety or the safety of the person who you’re trying to protect by filming.”
→ Use at least a six-digit phone password, and don’t use touch ID, because ICE can coerce you to unlock your phone with your fingerprint. And always save at least one unedited copy of your footage in a secure place.
→ Plan when you share — and with whom. “Sharing videos after an official ICE report or police report comes out can be huge, because it can help highlight any lies or discrepancies. If you share right away, it could give law enforcement the opportunity to change their story around the video.”
They’re looking over their shoulders.
Joon Young Kim, 32, South Korea
“I stopped visiting a lot of places where a lot of the ICE agents were coming, more predominantly busy areas of Hispanics or even Asians. I stopped going to Flushing Main Street; I stopped going to Corona to have a bite to eat. I saw some ICE agents in Penn Station. I actually stopped going to the city just for the fear of that.”
Status: An undocumented Queens man who self-deported in May.
They’re afraid to go to work …
Antonio, 45, Mexico
“If other deliverymen tell me that ICE is grabbing people in an area, I stay away. And I tell my boss not to send me there. I worry. But all I can do is work.”
Status: An undocumented deliveryman at a restaurant in Queens.
… And even to report abuse.
Emma Medina, women’s-services coordinator at Voces Latinas in Queens
“We have seen a decrease in the amount of calls from women in the community. In some cases, husbands will threaten their wives with deportation to exert power over them. Husbands will say that if they go to the authorities, the family will be broken and it will be all the woman’s fault. That keeps the abuse going.”
In his wallet
“He carries the lawyer’s card. I tell him, ‘Remember, if something happens, you say nothing and tell them to call my lawyer.’ Those are the conversations we’re having more now since this administration,” says Emilene Rodriguez, whose Mexican husband is undocumented.
THE FEAR OF LOSING THEIR CHILDREN CAN BE PARALYZING.
Groups are advising parents on what to do if they are separated from their children.
As grimly imperative as a will, this 22-page child-care safety plan lays out the wishes of parents at risk of “administrative separation.” Drafted by a coalition of California advocates, this and documents like it have been circulating among immigrants’-rights groups nationwide.
By “Incapacitated,” I mean if, while I have any child or children under the age of 18, I am:
(1) detained by law enforcement;
(3) deported or removed.
Perhaps the main purpose of the document is to keep children out of foster care, wherein parental rights are often severed and kids run a higher risk of eventual homelessness and incarceration. Parents who fail to plan in advance might be cut out of custody proceedings; ICE is supposed to involve them but isn’t required to.
If I am Incapacitated, I choose the following person (and alternates) to be the Caregiver for my children …
Parents are advised to choose at least one person who is “stable,” i.e., a documented person not terminally ill or involved in criminal activity or planning to leave the area. This isn’t always easy. Once, when attorney Miriam Stombler, who helped draft the document, was presenting the care plan to an ESL class, a mother raised her hand to say she didn’t know anyone at all in the U.S. “Two women in the class said, ‘Put me down,’ ” recalls Stombler. “And they meant it.”
For your Designated Caregiver, box 36: Child’s Favorite Things.
“If your parent gets picked up by ICE, it lets the person who picks you up from school that day know that chocolate is your favorite ice cream, or your best friend is Amelia, or this is your comfort stuffed animal,” says Stombler. “The idea was, How do we ease the discomfort for kids when their parents are whisked away?”
Where Immigrants Are Detained in the New York Area
Orange County Jail: Goshen, NY
Average length of stay: 107 days
Bergen County Jail: Hackensack, NJ
Average length of stay: 92 days
Hudson County Jail: Kearny, NJ
Average length of stay: 88 days
*Figures are totals from November 2016 to November 2017. TRAC, Syracuse University.
Where Immigrants Have Been Picked Up
Just some of the reported arrests since February 1, 2017.
1. 3 arrested in Highbridge
2. 28 arrested around Bronx County Criminal Court
3. 3 arrested in East Elmhurst
4. 13 arrested in Corona
5. 33 arrested around Queens County Criminal Court
6. 4 arrested in Ridgewood
7. 4 arrested in Bushwick
8. 43 arrested around Kings County Criminal Court
9. 24 arrested around New York County Criminal Court
10. 8 arrested around Richmond County Courthouse
Stats are from the Immigrant Defense Project.
Even classrooms don’t always feel safe.
Constance Bond, principal of St. Hope Leadership Academy
“We have a student who just disappeared one day, and the aunt called to say that the mother, who was undocumented, went on the run with the child. She was this lovely sixth-grade student whose whole life was upended because ICE was making threats. We lost that girl; we lost that family. She was really excelling academically.
We’ve had to train staff on what to do should an agent enter the school. We’ve had parents not want to send their child on a field trip because they’re worried ICE might enter the bus. And I have to be honest with you: I’m not 100 percent sure that something couldn’t happen. During the election is when I started to see increased stress levels in the kids, particularly in my girls who wear hijabs. They felt like people were saying things to them. For girls that are 11 and 12, that’s very scary.”
FOR THOSE WHO ARE DETAINED: “THEY TREAT YOU LIKE ANIMALS.”
Families are left without their main provider.
Risma Fadersair, 41, Indonesia
“They know Daddy went to work, and they asked, ‘Where is Daddy, Mommy?’ And I said, ‘He is coming back.’ I wasn’t ready to tell them Daddy got arrested. We don’t have a lawyer. My lawyer said, ‘I couldn’t help your husband because the case is too complicated.’ And they gave me a pro bono list. So I called them. And nobody responds. I finally found a private lawyer, but he asked for the money first: $4,000. So I said to him, ‘Even, you can kill me, I don’t have that much.’ We don’t have anybody to defend him. And only my husband works. The income only from him. At home, my husband always takes care of them. Without him, right now, it’s just my half missing. But the thing is, if I keep mourning like this, how about my kids?”
Since ICE Took Dad
Dwight, 9, and Ivor, 8, visit their dad.
Ivor: Sometimes when I see my dad in detention, to be honest, I want to sneak out with him so he can be with us. But then, the Hudson County detention people would be all, like, searching for him. That’s why I quit on that idea. I also have this idea to get back on Donald Trump. If he wants to arrest anyone, then I want to arrest his parents. Or him! So that’s what he deserves! Also I’m kind of furious.
Dwight: I don’t want to move to Indonesia. The rules there are not that good. And here the laws are not that good, too. That’s why I want the laws to change, so it could be fair and everyone could be happy in the country.
Ivor: My brother wants to be the president so he can change the laws.
Dwight: Maybe I could first be a lawyer, and then I could try to be president.
Ivor: Yeah, that sometimes happens. I want to be a doctor so I can take care of people, because I don’t really like it when people die or stuff. Also, to tell you the truth, I got two honor rolls.
Status: Last September, Fadersair’s husband, Indra Sihotang, was detained during a routine check-in and is being held in the Hudson County jail. The couple has four sons under the age of 10, all U.S. citizens, including a 5-year-old with Down syndrome.
Detention is jail, down to the food.
Shemar Pearce, 41, St. Lucia
“Hudson is like hell, hell like I wouldn’t want for nobody. It’s full of detainees, but they treat you like you are a criminal, like you are a murderer. Like you are the scum. There is one microwave, so there is always an argument for the microwave. It’s always an argument for the phone. They give you breakfast at 6:40, then ten o’clock is lunch, and four o’clock is dinner. You have no utensils*, so they give you a tray with not even a complete meal. It’s like, you wouldn’t even feed your dog that. Everything you have to buy. Like, a plastic spoon is 20 cents with tax. A bottle of water is a dollar with tax. If you want to buy a case of water, that’s $24. I was so depressed. There were times I would be like, I just want to get out of here at any means. I wanted to kill myself. I was telling my husband, ‘If I have to get out by a body bag, I will get out.’ This is no place for nobody.”
Status: Detained by ICE in front of her kids, Pearce spent six weeks this winter in a Hudson County jail.
*Hudson County jail says detainees are given “a utensil.”
Asylum seekers have to prove their “credible fear.”
Jasdeep Mangat, a physician who volunteers examining detainees
“My evaluation of their trauma is used by their lawyers in court. When I examine them, there is a guard outside the door. I’m not allowed to take pictures. Instead, I carry blank sheets of paper and a ruler to measure the length and dimensions of their scars and wounds. I ask things like, ‘How many weapons were used? How many times were you hit? Did you see the weapon? How long was it?’
About a month ago, I evaluated a 30-year-old Honduran man who was attacked with a machete by a gang that killed his brother in front of him. He ended up having a scar on the right side of his scalp. The scar was not clean cut; it was irregular and messy because he hadn’t gotten proper suturing afterward. He would not only get beat up by gangs but also by the police. He was also a victim of child abuse and was raped by a family friend. He started trembling when he’d talk about it. He said to me, ‘Why can’t this life just finish?’ ”
A high-school senior plans for a fatherless future.
Anonymous, U.S. citizen whose father was deported to Gambia
“I was at work when my sister called, crying: ‘They took Daddy. He went to his meeting with Immigration, and then they took him.’ My heart went down to my stomach.
I told myself, He’s coming back. Three weeks, tops. We’ve gotta go back-to-school shopping. I’m gonna be a senior. He needs to help with my college applications. Then the lawyer sat me down: ‘This is not something like he just comes home.’
After we went to the lawyers, we drove up to Jersey to see where he was being held. In the car home, everybody was crying. I was like, ‘Mom, I’m gonna sleep over at my friend’s house,’ and I went to a party. Usually I’m not really a party person, but I was just screaming and stuff, dancing, laughing. That was a way of me exerting it out. I was dreading going home. My dad’s chair is right here; my chair is right there. At 11 o’clock, we watch Judge Judy. That’s his favorite show — he loves her, and I hate her. He has this intoxicating scent. I don’t know if it’s his cologne or his natural scent. Going in the closet, smelling that — I laid on the bed and started crying.
My dad got deported on January 3, 2018. My friends don’t really know. I don’t want them to see me in a vulnerable way. What hurts the most is to think about the future. He’s never gonna see me walk down the aisle and finally meet the guy who was enough for me. He’s never gonna see me in a hospital room giving birth to my kid. I know I can always go visit him in Africa. It’s not that he’s dead, but it’s just not the same. Here with my dad, that’s where I belong. In the living room, watching Judge Judy.”
THEIR FAMILIES FIND THEMSELVES AT THE MERCY OF LAWYERS AND POLITICS.
But a good lawyer can save your life.
Nirna Pierre–Paul, 52, Haiti
Pierre-Paul came to Brooklyn from Haiti on a green card when she was 7. She struggled with addiction and did several stints in jail. In 2009, the government began trying to deport her. Sarah Gillman is an attorney with the Legal Aid Society.
Nirna: My country had an earthquake [in 2010], so they decided they were not sending Haitians back. For eight years, I have to report [to ICE], like parole. I didn’t miss, not one day. I did everything right. The day before I went this year, I had a nightmare that they kept me, and they did. They said, “You’re being detained.” Then they put me in handcuffs. But I had called my sister and told her, “Call Sarah Gillman.” She was my lawyer before.
Sarah: We filed a habeas petition arguing that they shouldn’t have been permitted to just take her into custody without any prior notice and revoke her order of supervision. In court that night, the judge asked the government attorney, “Why did you detain her?” I was quite shocked listening to this. He said, “Well, I just had to detain her because of operational procedures that have to be followed.” So basically they detained a human being who has multiple medical issues, had no support, was living for a long time in New York without any problems, because they had to do something operationally. For lack of a more articulate or sophisticated way of saying it, I think they’ve been chomping at the bit to do this and now they have the license. That night I called her older sister.
Sarah: I said, “Could I just ask you again about the family situation?” So their mom has dementia. She started to decline like three years ago, and from what I understand, they started going through the mom’s paperwork.
Nirna: She had documents that my mother was a citizen.
Sarah: So, under the law, we were able to argue that Nirna derived citizenship through her mom. We sent an email to the federal attorneys, and then Friday around five, we get an email from the government attorneys agreeing to release Nirna. She was on the phone hysterically crying with me as I was trying to explain to her that it’s okay, I’m coming to get you.
Nirna: After I got off the phone, people were just hugging me. People that didn’t even talk to me in there, just hugging me.
DACA recipients face the vagaries of perpetually changing laws.
Ivy Teng Lei, 27, China
“My work permit through DACA expires in March 2019. In the last months, DACA was rescinded and no applications were being accepted. Then a federal court struck down the White House decision to rescind it, and they started accepting existing application renewals. The volatility of it all is just so mentally draining. Even my friends will ask things like, ‘So are you still going to be deported?’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t know!’ ”
Status: DACA recipient who came to New York at age 7.
Left Behind: From a man deported in April
What You Can Bring to Detention
• Small religious items
• Reading material and letters
• Legal documents
• Up to ten photos
• A personal address book
• A wedding ring
A lucky break from activists can also save your life.
Day 1: Eloy, Arizona
It was just after dawn when Pau discovered her bond had been paid. She’d spent five weeks in immigration detention worrying about her 15-year-old daughter, whom she’d last seen a few days after they’d been picked up by ICE agents at the border in June. Pau had prayed every day. After she passed her “credible fear” interview, her bond had been set at $15,000. It might as well have been a million. She had no way to raise that kind of money, so she prayed some more.
Her benefactors, she’d eventually learn, were a group of mothers from New York called Immigrant Families Together. A few days before, they’d bailed out her friend Yeni, and now Pau and another woman —all three part of what Pau called her propia familia in detention. When they were released after dark, a woman was waiting for them — a stranger. She handed Pau a cell phone, and Yeni was on the line. “These are good people,” Yeni said. “You can trust them.” The woman dropped Pau and her friend at a hotel in Phoenix. It was the first time in weeks Pau slept through the night.
Day 2: Arizona to Colorado
A man named Kyle arrived at the hotel early the next morning and introduced himself as “el chofer,” part of the network of volunteers who’d banded together to help parents like Pau reach their children. For the next six hours, Pau rode in the back of the car with her fellow detainee. Then, in a Starbucks parking lot, they met new drivers, and their paths diverged. The two women hugged and told each other to be brave, to keep going for the sake of their children. Back in the car, Pau cried at everything, even when she ate a banana — her daughter loves bananas.
They drove out of New Mexico and into Colorado, where she switched cars again. That night she slept in Aurora.
Day 3: Colorado to Chicago
They drove into Nebraska, where she met her next driver, Brian, a six-foot-four man with a beard who spoke no Spanish. In some ways, not being able to speak was a relief.
Pau’s husband was already in New York, working construction and saving money by living dormitory style with other men. It had been eight years since he’d left home; Pau talked to him every day over WhatsApp. She wanted to reunite her family, but most of all she wanted her daughter to be safe. Her hometown in Guatemala was too dangerous for a skinny teenage girl.
Day 4: Chicago to Pittsburgh
The closer Pau got to New York, the more anxious she felt to just get there. At a midday stop in Ann Arbor, she used the bathroom, then declined the offer to rest. She just wanted to get back in the car.
Pau slept and woke up, and ripped a napkin to shreds as she told her story, again: how the guards had taunted her and told her she was going to be deported the next day, how they yelled “Stop crying!” and “This is all your fault!” But nothing compared, she said, to the pain of watching her daughter sob as she was being taken away. Pau was drying tears from her eyes when the city of Pittsburgh appeared in front of her at sunset, water and bridges gleaming. The family waiting for her had made Mexican-style chicken soup.
Day 5: Pittsburgh to New York City
Pau did not cry all morning. But when she saw the Manhattan skyline, she sobbed and thanked God. She sobbed as her driver negotiated the city streets. She borrowed a phone to call her daughter, who’d been released to her father a week earlier. “Don’t worry, Mama,” her daughter said. “Everything is going to be okay. You’re here.”
Status: Living in Queens with her husband and daughter.
One bricklayer was detained in cells he helped build.
Many immigrants being processed for detention are first held at a federal building on Varick Street, where one Trinidadian immigrant who has lived in New York since 1976 found himself in winter 2016.
“I was making $18 an hour.” c. 1985
“I’m bringing in all the blocks and the mortar, building the scaffolds. The glaze blocks that they got in the cell, after you strike them up if you don’t clean it, the mortar get hardened and it would be very hard to clean it off. You take a wet rag and wipe it down. I did all of that.”
“I was going to work.” December 7, 2016
“I’m walking up the hill, I’m walking to the train station, and an SUV and three cars just surrounded meI thought it was the police first of all, but I know I didn’t commit no crime. I said, ‘What did I do?’ And he said to me, ‘ICE immigration.’ ”
“They locked me up.” Hours later…
“I’m walking past in handcuffs from my hips down to my feet in a place that I worked on, I’m locked up in that place. I see one guy been in there that he won his case but his lawyer made some kind of mistake and he was still sitting in there when I left. And he been in there over a year, you understand what I’m saying?”
Status: He was transferred to Hudson County Correctional Facility and was released ten months later. He has since won a cancellation of removal.
THOSE WHO ARE DEPORTED MAY BE RETURNING TO A COUNTRY THEY DON’T REMEMBER.
He was 17 when he left and almost 50 when he was sent back.
Jean Montrevil, 49, Haiti
“They had a plan to deport me on the 16th of January, even though my case was still pending in court. I thought it was a mistake. They took me to Newark. Two days later, I got transferred to Miami. I stayed there for ten days. They called me to go downstairs; we had to sleep on the floor of the shelter. They gave me the money I have in the account. They gave me two months of medication. And I didn’t have no clothes — they had to find some jumpsuits and some pajamas. Then, early in the morning, they woke me up, at maybe four o’clock. We were shackled, put on a bus, and driven to an airfield. The only time they unshackled you was after the plane landed.
Now I have to start my life all over again. If you’re going to deport someone, give them a chance to make arrangements. I would have sent my clothes down here. They just deport us like we’re freaking animals. Who loses now? Only my kids. My son was doing so well in school; now he’s not. He’s only 14 years old. My daughter, she’s 11 years old. She’s getting emotional now. That’s what worries me, man.”
Status: He was deported in January after having been in the United States since 1986.
How to plan for the worst
“Years ago, we came up with an emergency plan,” says Montrevil, in case he got deported. “That plan saved my life.”
1. “The lawyer gets the first call when I get in custody.”
2. “Then the family members.”
3. “Then the church.”
4. “When you get deported to Haiti [and] you don’t have any family picking you up, they assume it was because of a crime and you’re going straight to jail. That was my biggest fear. I don’t think I could last one day in jail here. My friend got deported 20 years ago himself. My family knew to call him in Haiti to pick me up.”
Reunited families aren’t safe from deportation.
Javier Garrido, 30, and William Garrido, 4, Honduras
In July, after a court order required the Trump administration to reunite families who had been separated at the border, ICE agents drove a few dads to the city from the Hudson County Correctional Facility to reunite them with their children who had been placed in shelters in New York.
Javier Garrido, a Honduran immigrant, was one of them. His only child, 4-year-old William, had been taken from him at the Texas border 55 days earlier. While Garrido shuttled between detention facilities in Texas, Georgia, and New Jersey, with no idea where his son was, William had been flown to New York, placed in a children’s shelter, and then with a foster family. At one point, an officer had told Garrido that the boy would likely get adopted. “I was always the one who fed him. I was the one who bathed him,” Garrido says. “How were strangers caring for him? Who told him stories and rocked him to sleep?”
When he and William rushed into each other’s arms that afternoon, “I fell to my knees,” Garrido says. “It was the happiest moment of my life.” Hours later, William, no more than 40 pounds and snacking on Doritos, kissed his father’s neck a dozen times, paused, then pecked him several times again. “He’s missed a lot of naps,” Garrido says, gazing through the window of a Morningside Heights social-services office at the distant Empire State Building.
The next day, father and son boarded a flight to Louisiana to stay with an aunt and uncle. But their future is uncertain: Garrido, who was fitted with an ankle monitor, may have been put on a faster track for deportation without his asylum claim being fully vetted, says an advocate at Catholic Charities who reviewed his case. Garrido’s priority had been reuniting with William.
THIS IS WHERE THEY’D COME FOR A “BETTER LIFE.” BUT IT MAY NOT ALWAYS BE.
Unaccompanied minors can be detained once they turn 18.
José, 19, Honduras
In August 2016, 17-year-old José traveled to the U.S. from Honduras with a friend and a cousin. The journey took two months.
“I went through so much to get here. I saw mutilated bodies. I was robbed by cops in Guatemala and beaten by sicarios. I ran through deserts and jumped on trains so big and loud I thought my heart would jump out of my chest. Many people died on those trains.”
After being apprehended by U.S. Immigration officials, José was taken to a children’s shelter in New York City.
“In the children’s home, I was treated very well. They were caring. They’d take us out to the city to eat doughnuts, to McDonald’s, to play. To church. To the pool.”
Two months later, on the morning of his 18th birthday, ICE arrested him and took him to a county jail in New Jersey.
“My friends didn’t see it happen because it was early in the morning. I was crying; my social worker was crying. I was treated like a criminal. You know the jumpsuits that criminals wear on TV? That’s what they put on me.”
Brooklyn Defender Services took his case, and he was released in March 2017 after four months.
“My last day in the jail, people cheered. Everyone knows how hard it is to get to this country. They gave me hugs, tears in their eyes. When I got out, I was so nervous. I wasn’t used to being outside anymore.”
José’s immigration case is pending, but his lawyers say new changes to the rules are making it harder for immigrants who arrived as unaccompanied minors, aged out, and are now treated like undocumented adults to stay in the United States. But José is optimistic. These days, he lives in Manhattan with his sponsor.
“Things got dark for me, but then they started getting better. Everything is calm at home; [my sponsor] has a family. She works a lot. In the morning, we eat a traditional breakfast, coffee and rolls. I really like riding my bike around the city. I went to the Statue of Liberty a few months ago, and I try to go to Central Park often. But there are still more places I want to see. I have never been to a zoo, for example. Or on one of those boats that go around the city. I play soccer in Queens from Monday to Saturday. I play midfield. I also take English classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And I go to therapy. I started reading a book about the history of Martin Luther King Jr. I am not done, but he seems like a brave person.”
Some find it easier to self-deport.
Joon Young Kim, 32, South Korea
“When I realized about my immigration status, I was around 17. There’s a mandatory requirement that we have to serve in the South Korean military. There was paperwork to defer it, but my mother, I guess, she didn’t apply for it. I got stuck in this weird limbo: I couldn’t apply for a green card in the U.S. without an active visa. But if I go back to Korea, I’m going to be jailed. I was a man with no country.
At the end of March, I decided I’m going back to Korea. I hired a lawyer in Korea, and he got me out of the military jail time. I felt this huge relief. I’m going to go serve in the army. I lived in the shadows long enough. [President Trump] did play into my decision-making. It’s made it harder for people like me to get status.
In Korea, you come to America for a better life, you come for a dream. I’m going back for a better life, which to me sounds pretty outrageous, but it is the best choice, I think, for my future. I’m taking a small duffel bag filled with a couple of shirts, pants, a toothbrush, $500 equivalent in Korean currency. And a dream.”
Status: After 25 years in the U.S., he returned to South Korea in May.
And yet, for many, being here is still worth the risk.
Youngmin Lo, 35, South Korea
“As an undocumented person, for a long time I felt guilt and shame about who I was. But when we decided to become [part of a] sanctuary-church network, the church asked if I wanted to share my story with other people. I decided to speak publicly. I do know there are people who may have the same fear that I had, and they want to hide from everything that’s going on. But if I don’t share my story, it means not only that I lose my opportunity to speak up but we’re losing together. If anything happens to me and my family, it will really hurt me and break my heart. But if that’s the cost that has to be made, I think I’m willing to do that. We cannot just constantly live in fear. The fear is what keeps us back.”
Status: Undocumented pastor in Queens.
This story was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.
Reporting by Andrew R. Calderon, Maurice Chammah, Eli Hager, Lauren Hilgers, Kathryn Joyce, Jordan Larson, Mustafa Z. Mirza, Julia Preston, Alysia Santo, Nick Tabor, Christie Thompson, Manuel Villa, and Simone Weichselbaum.
*This article appears in the July 23, 2018, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!