Federal border officials are addressing court notices for asylum seekers to random nonprofits in New York, putting migrants – some of whom have yet to even enter the state – at risk of deportation, according to advocates.
Since the week of July 11, Catholic Charities has received more than 300 notices instructing asylum-seekers to appear in immigration court at its three centers in Manhattan and the Bronx, plus several parishes. Legal Aid attorneys also said last week that the organization is receiving improperly addressed court notices.
If a person seeking asylum fails to appear, a judge can issue an “in absentia order of removal,” meaning the individual is subject to deportation.
“The notices are dated for people who have entered the country in the last several weeks. They have not even made it to New York, many of them,” Maryann Tharappel, special projects director for immigrant and refugee services at Catholic Charities, said Tuesday at a press conference outside of the organization’s headquarters, while calling on the federal government to ensure that officials at the southern border remedy the problem. She said the organization has made contact with the federal officials about the issue, but has yet to receive a plan of action.
“It’s been very difficult to get acknowledgement from the Department of Homeland Security,” Tharappel said. “There is an understanding that this is happening at the southern border, but we have not received any sort of response as to whether it has been stopped and what we can do to cure the situation.”
Tharappel said the organization has observed “increasing numbers” and “lines around the corner” outside of immigration court on Federal Plaza of people “seeking assistance in understanding what these court notices mean and wanting support.”
Like many of the issues New York and other sanctuary cities across the country are experiencing with the new influx of migrants to the U.S., the problem is not new, but has become more acute given the volume of asylum seekers who have arrived in the country in recent months. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has estimated 5,000 arrivals in the city since the beginning of the year.
“We have had conversations at a national level with Catholic Charities partners from different organizations across the country because this issue is not unique to just New York,” Tharappel said. “New York is one of the highest receiving of these improperly addressed hearing notices and notices to appear, but Boston has received a slew, D.C. has received a slew, Dallas has received a few.”
Tharrapel said she is not aware of judges issuing any deportation notices related to the 300-some summonses Catholic Charities has received. Asylum-seekers can have the order dismissed if they can approve the notice was sent to the wrong address or they did not appear due to exceptional circumstances. Legal Aid attorneys said they are assisting asylum-seekers in filing change-of-address paperwork to ensure they receive future court notices.
Advocates said it is unclear why federal officials are sending notices to non-profits in New York. Tharappel said the organization has received improperly addressed notices for immigrants in the past, but in much smaller numbers. In early 2020, approximately 30 court notices for Francophile and African immigrants were addressed to the organization, she said. A high percentage of the notices Catholic Charities is receiving now are for Venezuelan migrants, in addition to Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Colombian people.
“We don't know what it is or why exactly they're doing it,” Josh Goldfein, an attorney with Legal Aid’s Homeless Rights Project said last week. “Maybe somebody's trying to be helpful and saying, ‘oh, here's a service provider in New York City. If that's the case, then they're just incompetent. It could also be something more malicious, you know, a lot in the spirit of what (Texas Governor) Greg Abbott has said, you know, ‘New York thinks that it's okay for people to cross the border, then New York can deal with it. Here's a random social services organization.’”
Not only are notices being sent to non-residential addresses, but federal border officials have also given migrants paperwork with made-up addresses, and on at least two occasions, have drawn in smiley-face emojis in place of signatures, NBC 4 reported.
In response to questions about the ongoing paperwork issues, U.S. Customs and Border Protection sent a previously released statement on Tuesday that said: “Migrants who are provisionally released must provide an address and have strict immigration reporting requirements, including checking in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further processing once they reach their destination. Migrants are provided forms to update their addresses once they reach their destination.”