Lawmakers Press ICE for Answers after Incident at Queens Courthouse
Washington, DC – New York City’s Democratic Members of the U.S. House today wrote the heads of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following reports that federal immigration officials had been patrolling a Queens court that specializes in protecting human trafficking victims.
The lawmakers’ letter condemns the incident and asks DHS Secretary Kelly to clearly outline the Department’s policy on agents targeting human trafficking victims.
The letter outlines a number of concerns shared by the City delegation. Among them, the letter asks if the agency will deprioritize enforcement at courthouses that deal with human trafficking cases. In addition, the lawmakers want to know if detainment and deportation of trafficking victims has risen since President Trump took office.
“It is simply unconscionable that ICE would target such a marginalized population,” said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) who spearheaded the letter. “Tactics like this could well mean that other victims of trafficking are less likely to step out of the shadows and seek help they might otherwise obtain. We are demanding a clear explanation of DHS’ and ICE’s policies when it comes to trafficking victims.”
“ICE agents showing up at a court for human trafficking victims – which is located in my Congressional district – is deeply troubling, and the targeting of such a vulnerable population is unacceptable,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens). “I am gravely concerned that such actions by ICE will negatively impact our legal system and prevent victims from coming to court and seeking the help they need. Secretary Kelly and Director Homan must immediately provide us with the answers we seek about victims of trafficking. I eagerly await their replies.”
“I am deeply troubled by the incident that recently occurred at the Queens County courthouse. This young Chinese woman was a victim of human trafficking, and yet another example of how ICE policies and procedures have failed our judicial system and the most vulnerable individuals among us,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY). “Enough is enough and the immigrant community deserves better – we deserve to feel secure, and we deserve to be safe when seeking justice. My Protecting Sensitive Locations Act prohibits immigration enforcement, including arrests, interviews, searches, and surveillance at locations deemed sensitive that include areas such as medical or health care facilities, public and private schools, places of worship, courthouses, DMV offices, and locations that provide emergency services. This young woman was seeking safety and the system failed.”
Congressman Joe Crowley (D, Queens, the Bronx), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus: "As the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigrants continues, we have seen yet another example of how truly troubling their methods are. I am appalled that federal agents are targeting immigrants who have been victims of crimes at the very places they should feel protected. These tactics only make Queens, the Bronx, and our communities throughout the country less safe by eroding trust between immigrant communities and the law enforcement officers who protect us all. My colleagues and I will not let this go on unabated and we demand an explanation from ICE and DHS officials.”
“These reports about ICE agents at court houses are deeply troubling and would seem to constitute a serious overreach by the Administration,” said Congressman Engel (D-NY). “If true, the targeting of victims of sex trafficking while they’re at their most vulnerable is nothing short of predatory. DHS needs to clearly and concisely explain how these ICE agents are operating, especially as it relates to victims of human trafficking.”
“Law enforcement agencies should be focused on going after traffickers, not their victims. It is horrific that DHS officials were targeting a trafficking survivor who was seeking justice in court and the agency needs to come clean about it was doing and explain its policies with respect to trafficked individuals. Our priority must be creating an environment in which these individuals feel safe to interact with law enforcement and have the opportunity to get compassionate support from programs that help survivors transition to a free life in the United States,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY).
"Courthouses and other sensitive locations should be off limits when it comes to ICE enforcement activities. These type of practices only threaten our public safety security by making immigrants more likely to remain in the shadows and reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement. We need a clear answer from ICE on their policy and practices when it comes to areas like courthouses and victims of human trafficking and the guarantee that they are respecting the law and protecting individuals civil rights," said Congressman Serrano (D-NY).
“It is reprehensible that this Administration would advocate policies that go after victims of human trafficking and force them to fear the consequences of coming forward to seek help,” said Congressman Nadler (D-NY). “We are seeing a pattern where—under the Trump Administration—DHS and ICE agents are targeting as criminals undocumented immigrants who are victims of human trafficking, of domestic abuse, and even those who put their own lives at risk in order to help after 9/11. This is a violation of our morals as a nation. Congress has a responsibility to protect victims, and we must use every tool at our disposal to stop these harmful actions.”
“It is the federal government’s duty to serve the people, particularly those that have experienced unconscionable suffering," said Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). "We should be going after felons, not families who are here pursuing the American dream. ICE must cease targeting vulnerable immigrant communities immediately."
A copy of the letter can be found online here.