Migrants Were Sent to ‘Live’ in a Brooklyn Heights Office

Photo: Sarah Yenesel/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Migrants began reporting to the Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens office on Joralemon Street in early July. At first it was a trickle of people – maybe two or three – every day. “We treated it as an individual case,” said Richard Slizeski, vice president of the organization. “But all of a sudden it was like 20 people queuing every day. Last week we saw around 300.”

At first, Catholic Charities staff did not know why asylum seekers started arriving at their doorsteps. Slizeski said they had heard of the organization’s affiliate, Catholic Migration Services, which is located in the same building and provides free legal assistance to low-income immigrants. “But no, they were picking us up – the good old walk-in centre!” he said.

The migrants — many from Venezuela, as well as a few from Haiti — had all been bused to New York from Texas, said Bexabeth Gomez, head of the Catholic Charities program. And between 70 and 80 of them, she said, had shown up with forms showing the Catholic Charities office as their place of residence. “It was the Department of Homeland Security – their letterhead – which read, ‘This is your new residence now. This is where you will live,'” Slizeski said.

But there was a serious problem. “We are an office building. We are not a refuge,” Slizeski said. The form is part of the standard documents for migrants apprehended at the US-Mexico border who are allowed to enter the country to pursue asylum claims. Called the Notice to Appear, it asks people to provide an address where immigration officers can reach them for upcoming hearings. Some asylum seekers list the addresses of friends or relatives living in the United States until they can settle somewhere on their own. But across the country, the volunteers helping to resettle the recent wave of migrants noticed that a growing number of recent arrivals have no connection to the United States – and nowhere to go once they are released from DHS custody.

This does not explain how the Catholic Charities office ended up as the official address for migrants. Customs and Border Protection is the agency that fills out notices to appear, but a CBP spokesperson told me, “The federal government is not involved in busing migrants to other states by the government of Texas and Arizona,” and did not respond to questions asking how Texas asylum seekers were referred to the CCBQ. The Texas departments that sent migrants to DC in April, the Texas Department of Public Safety and Governor Greg Abbott’s office, also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At the office, as dozens and dozens of asylum seekers showed up, Slizeski said, “We were caught off guard. We did not have [notice] from the federal or Texas government. Migrants, he added, “came up with a lot of expectations that we would meet all their housing, employment needs,” he added. “They were promised a lot of things, which I think is really shameful.” All Catholic Charities staff could do was give asylum seekers basic necessities like food and clothing and direct them to legal assistance who would help them file a change of asylum form. address to the immigration court. But as for a place to stay, they could only send them back to the same shelters in town that the thousands of people arriving at Port Authority and other places were also sent to.

The sudden influx of migrants to the nonprofit office is another arena in the one-sided campaign launched by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and now Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to transport migrants in Washington, D.C., New York and other so-called “sanctuary cities” and states as a political statement on the Biden administration supposedly open border. (In reality, Biden largely maintained the Trump-era border closure to most asylum seekers.) Abbott’s office says he has sent more than 2,200 asylum seekers in New York since August 5, while city ​​officials estimate that approximately 2,800 people were bussed in from Texas and Arizona. The city scrambled to provide basic services to newcomers, but most of the work was also done by volunteers and nonprofits meeting migrants at the Port Authority.

This isn’t the first time CBP has written misinformation on migrant court appearance notices. Immigration officials wrote ‘Facebook’ as the last known address of some asylum seekers who were forced to wait out their hearings in Mexico under a now-defunct Trump-era program called the Protective Protocols migrants, BuzzFeed News reported in 2019. More recently, migrants bused to New York from Texas had fake addresses and phone numbers listed on their court appearance notices. In July, a migrant had “111 strangers” listed as an address with a nonexistent phone number, NBC News 4 reported in August. The migrants told NBC News 4 that they were given these addresses and encouraged to travel to New York to seek asylum.

Hasan Shafiqullah, the lawyer in charge of Legal Aid’s immigration law unit, said some organizations that are on the list of pro bono providers given to newly arrived asylum seekers have had their addresses listed. on notices of appearance of migrants. “There are also groups that are not [on the pro-bono providers list] that are listed,” such as the Department of Homeless Services office on Beaver Street, Shafiqullah said. Catholic Charities attempted to contact Homeland Security to stop listing his address on migrant hearing notices, but received no response, said Maryann Tharappel, Catholic Charities’ director of special projects for immigrants. immigrant and refugee services, at a press conference in August. Gomez said staff did not notice the organization’s address listed on the most recent NTAs.

The problem is not only that migrants are misled into believing that they will have a home when they arrive in New York; is that all the information about their upcoming hearings will be sent to the wrong address. The consequences are potentially disastrous. “If the court has adjourned the hearing to a date before the hearing date and they send a notice to the registered address, you won’t get it,” Shafiqullah said. Those who miss their immigration court hearings can be arrested by ICE at later court dates and sent to detention, or deported in absentia for failing to appear in court. While they can attempt to reopen their case if they can prove they never received notice because the court had the wrong address on file, the decision to do so is ultimately up to a judge. of immigration. In the worst case, asylum seekers who get the wrong address on their forms could be sentenced to deportation.

“The judge may say, ‘If that wasn’t your address, you should have spoken or filed a change of address form,” Shafiqullah said. “Some judges might take a pretty aggressive stance and say, ‘Duty It was up to you to fix this. Why should I reopen your case? Too bad, so sad.'”

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