The Immigrant Defense Project and Black Alliance for Just Immigration Release Emails Showing Clear Collusion Between the Department of Corrections and ICE

February 22, 2023

It has been over 8 years since passage of local laws limiting New York City from working as an extension of ICE. Yet, our city has fallen behind as a leader of strong immigrant protective laws. We have tracked for years how city agencies have flouted our existing laws and continued to funnel people into the hands of ICE, irreparably harming them, their loved ones and their communities. The time is now for New York City to step up as a local leader and send a clear message to ICE that our city will not be a pipeline to detention and deportation. We can fix our laws and create a system of accountability with passage of three key bills before the City Council

Through a freedom of information law request, the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) and Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJ) obtained over a thousand pages of emails exchanged between the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) between 2015 and 2019. The correspondence shows without a doubt that the City agency has been violating the city’s detainer laws and actively taking steps to facilitate immigrant New Yorkers’ detention by ICE. 

The emails detail how DOC regularly illegally communicates with ICE about people even when NYC law clearly says that they cannot and delayed or slowed down the release of individuals otherwise ready to be released to provide additional time to facilitate ICE arrests. The language in the emails also illustrated a deep and shocking culture of collusion, a desire to facilitate the deportation of immigrant New Yorkers, and complete disregard for the rights of people they detain. DOC signs an email to ICE asking them to pick up someone with “#teamsendthemback.” In another email,  DOC tells ICE they are urgently awaiting a detainer for someone and when ultimately the detainer is located, DOC informs ICE that “You are my BOO FOR REAL!!!!!!!!!!!”These emails were excerpted to the Department of Corrections General Counsel Paul Shechtman who testified before the City Council on February 15th in a jointly held hearing between the Immigration and Criminal Justice Committees. Shechtman stated that “[t]he emails you read are not our policy and should not have happened” and stated that the communication appeared “not consistent with city law.” Yet, community members and advocates know this is patently false and that DOC’s practices of colluding with ICE have continued in the years since the e-mail correspondence documented in the FOIL results and to the present.

For example:

  • As shared by New York County Defender Services at the City Council detainer oversight hearing in 2021, their client, S.S., was impacted by collusion between DOC and ICE in 2020. S.S. was born in Gambia and lived in the United States for over fourteen years where he married a U.S. citizen and had two children. In 2018 he was arrested on a criminal matter. On the day that he was set to be released in March of 2020 from Rikers and reunited with his family, he was told by DOC “You are not going home. You are going back to Africa. ICE is coming to get you” at which point DOC sent him back to his cell to await ICE. His attorney contacted DOC’s Captain Rainey who confirmed she was in fact delaying release until ICE had an opportunity to show up and arrest him. Even after the attorney escalated the matter to Legal, DOC still confirmed that they would keep holding her client until ICE arrived. Ultimately, DOC took the position without explanation that they would not discharge the client despite inclusion on the Mayor’s list for early discharge and the urgent necessity for release due to the initial unfolding of the pandemic. Once his sentence was finished, he was released in August of 2020 on a day when DOC opened the door and invited ICE to come inside. This community member was ultimately deported and separated from his wife and children.
  • As shared in the Bronx Defenders written testimony for the City Council’s Immigration and Criminal Justice Hearing on February 15th, 2023, their client Mr. J who has been in the US for nearly ten years,  finished a six-month sentence on Rikers Island in March of 2021. Despite being informed by DOC officials that he was going to be released alongside two other people on the same day, on his actual release day he was the only person taken from his housing area to wait in a separate holding cell for two hours without any explanation. Then officers — who he later learned were from ICE — went into his Rikers holding cell and told him to follow them. It was only then that he was informed that he was under arrest by ICE and would be transported from DOC custody to ICE custody. DOC never accounted for the time he was detained in the holding cell, and, according to DOC’s own testimony, no signed judicial warrant was ever presented to Mr. J or the Bronx Defenders or to client or DOC.  
  • As shared in the Bronx Defenders written testimony for the City Council’s Immigration and Criminal Justice Hearing on February 15th, 2023, their client Ms. Y, who has a pending asylum application with a hearing scheduled for 2023 and no criminal convictions at all,  was arrested and held by DOC on an assault charge. In April of 2022, when their friend attempted to pay bail they were told by DOC “not to bother” because DOC believed there was an ICE hold. The Bronx Defenders advised the friend to pay bail and they did but the client was still not released, so advocates emailed the DOC legal department and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (“MOCJ”). MOCJ responded stating that a “special unit” was looking into the ICE detainers and would get back to them after they reviewed the detainer. Ms. Y was held for two additional hours past when she should have been released and then was released.

We invite the public to read a memo summarizing findings from key documents produced in response to the FOIL of DOC records and see all of the produced documents here. We also invite you all to join us to get #ICEOutof NYC!