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New York Democrats Tell ICE: Stay Away from Human Trafficking Courts

July 17, 2017
In The News

Congressional Democrats from New York City are calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep its officers away from courts that help victims of human trafficking. Their letter to the agency cites an incident last month in which deportation officers showed up at one such court in Queens looking for a woman who had been arrested for prostitution.

Addressing Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Acting Director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement Thomas Homan, the members of congress argue that human trafficking is a "chronic, transnational problem" where victims are often afraid or restricted from coming forward.

"We are concerned that sending ICE personnel to specialized institutions or courts designed to assist human trafficking victims will deter others from coming forward and seeking assistance for fear of facing detainment or deportment by immigration officials," the letter states.

The members of Congress also cite data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which found that over "62 percent of labor trafficking victims reported in calls to the Hotline were foreign nationals."

Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez told WNYC's Beth Fertig, "We are sending ICE agents to the very place where people who are victims of human trafficking feel free to go and seek intervention."

As WNYC has previously reported, immigration agents came to a Queens criminal courtroom for human trafficking victims in June looking for "a young Chinese woman" who had been charged for working illegally.

The woman wasn't detained by ICE because her lawyers asked the judge for bail, buying enough time for the woman to leave the courthouse.

In their letter, the Democratic members of congress ask Sec. Kelly and Acting Director Homan if ICE will revise existing policy to "deprioritize enforcement at courthouses that review human trafficking cases." The congress members also ask how ICE agents are "trained to identify potential sex trafficking victims."

Congresswoman Velasquez says courthouses should be protected places for people at risk for deportation."To go to the courthouses that are there to assist and to help these people break away from the vicious cycle, that should not be a place where ICE agents go," said Velasquez.

In response, a representative for ICE said that agents have not arrested anyone within the Human Trafficking Intervention Court, although they did arrest three people outside the Queens County Criminal Court House last month. Previously, officials have said that immigration agents will consider whether an individual is a victim to a crime before taking enforcement action.