Immigrant Detained by ICE Because She Did Not Understand Letter

(Photo via El Diario)

Last June, Mexican immigrant Mrs. R. went to a building on Varick Street to appear for an appointment notice of which she had received by mail. A victim of domestic violence, she had applied for a U visa in 2016, and assumed that the meeting was related to her case. R. does not speak English and, even though she did not understand the entirety of the letter, went to the cited address, which turned out to be an immigration office. She was arrested on site, sent to a detention center in New Jersey, and held for two months.

“When I received the letter, I thought that it was about my U visa and didn’t think to call my lawyer. When I got there – I went with a friend – I showed the paper to an officer and, after asking me many questions, he said that I was arrested for being undocumented. My friend told me: ‘Sis, they duped you.’ It was a horrible experience (…),” said R., who has been in the country for almost 15 years and who has children who are U.S. citizens. “I inadvertently went into the lion’s den because I did not understand the letter in English they sent me.”

Thus began R.’s ordeal. She admits that, while detained, she was extremely anxious about the future of her children, who are all minors. Fortunately, they were taken care of by one of her sisters and some friends from the neighborhood. They looked after the children until last week, when R. was released by a judge after a petition made by her lawyers.

“(…) We showed evidence that she is not a menace to society, that she is not a flight risk and that, in addition to having a pending visa application, she has children who are U.S. citizens living here and is trying to regularize her status,” said attorney Ramya Ravishankar from the Legal Aid Society (…). “We also demonstrated that she was detained because she thought that she had an appointment related to her visa application when it was actually meant for ICE to detain her.”

The lawyer explained that, although ICE has the authority to send summonses, in Mrs. R.’s case, the arrest was uncalled for.

(…) “What we showed in court was that, in this particular instance, [the authorities’] discretion was used in an inappropriate manner, as our client does not represent a risk and her detention has enormous impact on her family and the community,” said the Legal Aid attorney, who took the case as part of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), through which the city provides free lawyers.

(…) Regarding the fear many undocumented people who comply with requirements may have when applying for a U visa under the current climate promoted by the government, Ravishankar said that they should continue submitting their forms, but stressed that, in order to avoid problems like those faced by Mrs. R., it is crucial to attend every meeting – however unimportant it may seem – accompanied by a lawyer and that they must understand the entire contents of any documents they fill out. (…) The lawyer added that, in the case of the Mexican woman detained by ICE, they still don’t know what was the reason why she was summoned.

The city defends immigrants

Commissioner Bitta Mostofi, of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), said that they are working with the city’s agencies to support the effective distribution of certifications to process U and T visas, which are granted to immigrants who have been victims of certain crimes.

“We are deeply worried about the priorities and practices of the excessive enforcement being carried out by ICE, (…)” said Mostofi. (…)

The government official added that, ever since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in New York, the number of people applying for U and T visas has increased from 317 in 2014 to 709 last year.

Myriam Hernández, from New York Communities for Change, which has been assisting R.’s family, criticized the arrest of the Mexican mother, and asked people going through unfair situations to report them so they can obtain help.

“She is a good mother. She is an admirable woman who has fulfilled the roles of father and mother, working hard to ensure her children’s future, and it is unfair for her to be taken this way, when she has done nothing illegal in this country,” said the activist. (…)

After living as a prisoner for two months and enduring discrimination and bullying while in detention, R. is once again with her children, trying to help them overcome the trauma the arrest brought upon them. (…).

“I tell people that they must, first of all, seek the advice of lawyers or of someone who can read English very well. I know that, in this situation we are in, we often don’t have money, but they need to find it somewhere. Most of all, when they leave their home, people should always say goodbye to their children, because you never know if you will be able to return and see them again,” said R.

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