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How Donald Trump’s war on immigrants is playing out in his hometown.

Filed 07.23.18 6:00 a.m.

An estimated half-million New Yorkers are undocumented. Whether they’ve lived here for two months or 20 years, they came to this city of immigrants—a place where more than a third of the population was born in another country—looking for the same things that have brought newcomers here for centuries: work and school opportunities, religious freedom, family, and a haven from violence, persecution, political upheaval, and natural disaster.

In this “sanctuary city,” the local government promises to defend New Yorkers regardless of status, restricting law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents (although not prohibiting it entirely, to the chagrin of many immigrant advocates). But in recent months, with headlines about terrified toddlers in “baby jails” and a president who refers to migrants as an “infestation,” it’s become increasingly clear: In the era of Donald Trump, even New York City doesn’t feel safe for the undocumented.

Now, these are everyday scenes in the city: An Ecuadorian man gets arrested while delivering pizza in Brooklyn. A Chinese father of two is detained during an interview to become a legal permanent resident. Across the boroughs, there have been reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents appearing in courthouses, workplaces, neighborhood streets, even a church, according to one advocacy group, sowing panic.

In the eight months after Trump’s inauguration, ICE arrests in the New York area jumped by 67 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, and arrests of immigrants with no criminal convictions increased 225 percent. During that time, ICE arrested 2,031 people in its New York “area of responsibility,” which includes the five boroughs and surrounding counties. These aren’t unprecedented numbers: ICE arrested almost four times as many people in New York City in 2010 as it did last year, and it picks up far fewer people here than in some other parts of the country.

Thanks to free legal assistance, in which the mayor has invested $30 million, according to the city, immigrant New Yorkers are more likely to be represented in court than many of their counterparts around the country. (Eighty percent in Queens versus, say, 39 percent in South Carolina.) Partly as a result, they’re less likely to get deported, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Among the five U.S. counties with the highest volume of immigration cases, Queens had the highest proportion of immigrants who were granted deportation relief and the lowest proportion ordered removed from the country.

Despite all of that, Trump’s immigration crackdown has instilled a new level of fear throughout the city. Before he took office, many immigrants who were considered low priority for deportation—because they didn’t have criminal records, for example—were allowed to stay as long as they regularly reported to immigration authorities. But soon after his inauguration, Trump expanded the number of people considered a priority for deportation, and now, people whose only offense is staying in the country illegally are being flagged for removal.

For many immigrant New Yorkers, once ordinary activities are now fraught with dread.

Some immigrants who have been arrested by federal agents say they’ve been made to feel like criminals, subjected to inhumane conditions in overcrowded detention facilities while they await deportation proceedings, which can take months or even years. Meanwhile, their desperate families scramble to scrape together legal fees that easily reach thousands of dollars. Although many manage to stave off deportation with the help of a lawyer, others are not so lucky. Flown to unfamiliar countries where they may not have lived in decades, the deported often arrive with no money, no cell phone, no transportation, no place to stay. Back in New York City, their absence, often dizzyingly sudden, leaves children, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, churches, and entire communities reeling—and wondering who could disappear next.

"All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and—if found removable by final order—removal from the United States," ICE spokesperson Rachael Yong Yow said. The agency takes abuse allegations very seriously and is "committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments," she added.

It’s perhaps no surprise that many immigrant New Yorkers, who for years have tried to do the right thing, such as paying taxes and checking in with ICE, are retreating into the shadows. “This Trump administration came in and immigrants, even the permanent residents, even the people who have their status, they have this fear. And the people who are undocumented, I think they realize it’s time to hide,” says Youngmin Lo, 35, an undocumented South Korean who is a pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church of Maspeth, Queens.

The Marshall Project and New York Magazine contacted more than 100 people around the city—immigrants, lawyers and advocates—to find out what life is like for undocumented New Yorkers in the age of Trump. There was the 23-year-old undocumented Dominican woman from the Bronx who was detained on her honeymoon in Niagara Falls. The Manhattan teenager who couldn't bring herself to tell her friends that her father was deported to Gambia. And the bright middle school student in Harlem who suddenly disappeared earlier this school year; an aunt told her principal that her family had fled to Canada to escape ICE. “Palpable fear has just become part of their lives at this point,” said Dr. Constance Bond of St. HOPE Leadership Academy Charter School in Harlem, about her students from immigrant families. As it has for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

Even in this sanctuary city, President Trump’s crackdown has spread fear through immigrant communities.

As a precaution, some have stopped traveling.

Emilene Rodriguez's husband carries the business card of his lawyer in his wallet in case he is questioned about his citizenship.
Emilene Rodriguez's husband carries the business card of his lawyer in his wallet in case he is questioned about his citizenship. Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

“The moment [Trump] became president, I panicked. Last year, we didn’t go on vacation. I was like, We’re not going anywhere. In February, my husband’s nephew passed away in Houston and even though half of me was worried, the other half was like, this is family, you have to go. I had to put my fear away and hop on a plane with him and pray to God that we would come back. But was I fearful? Yes. Did I have the lawyer’s number on my phone? Yes, I did. Was I prepared? Yes, I was. He carries the lawyer’s card. He has it in his wallet. I tell him, 'Remember, if something happens, you say nothing and tell them to call my lawyer.' Those are the conversations we’re having more now since this administration.”

Emilene Rodriguez, 36
is a U.S. citizen. Her Mexican husband is undocumented.
Emilene Rodriguez's husband carries the business card of his lawyer in his wallet in case he is questioned about his citizenship.
Emilene Rodriguez's husband carries the business card of his lawyer in his wallet in case he is questioned about his citizenship. Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Or going to certain neighborhoods.

“I stopped visiting a lot of places where a lot of the ICE agents were coming, more predominantly busy areas of Hispanics or even Asians. I stopped going to Flushing Main Street, I stopped going to Corona to have a bite to eat. I saw some ICE agents in Penn Station. I actually stopped going to the city just for the fear of that.”

Joon Young Kim, 32
was an undocumented South Korean immigrant living in Queens before he self-deported in May.
South Korea

They’re afraid to go to work.

“If other delivery men tell me that ICE is grabbing people in an area, I stay away. And I tell my boss not to send me there. I worry sometimes. But all I can do is work.”

Antonio, 45
is an undocumented delivery man in Queens.
El Salvador

And they fear for their families.

“I hear rumors that people without documents are being detained. I have two little ones. If I am taken away, where will my children end up? If they take my children, they are taking my life.”

Maria, 21
is an undocumented taco vendor in Jackson Heights.

Of New York’s 3.1 million immigrants, about 560,000 are undocumented.

Borough population by status
Source: 2012-2016 5-Year American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample as augmented by the New York City Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity. Undocumented population estimates are adjusted for undercounting by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Even classrooms don’t always feel safe.

“We have a student who just disappeared one day, and the aunt called to say that the mother, who was undocumented, went on the run with the child. She was this lovely 6th grade student whose whole life was upended because ICE was making threats. We lost that girl; we lost that family. She had great attendance and was really excelling academically.

We’ve had to train operations staff on what we are permitted to do and not permitted to do should an agent enter the school. We’ve had parents not want to send their child on a field trip because they’re worried ICE might enter the bus. And I have to be honest with you: I’m not 100 percent sure that something couldn’t happen.

During the election is when I started to see increased stress levels in the kids, particularly in my girls who wear hijabs. They felt like the streets of New York were not as friendly as they used to be. They felt like people were saying things to them. For girls that are 11 and 12, that's very scary."

It’s especially alarming to see police officers at school.

“Sometimes we have NYPD come to the school investigating something. They're kids, they're teenagers. Let's say they bring a pocket knife to school. That immediately triggers school safety to have to get NYPD involved. The fact that then I have to worry about this potentially impacting an entire family and the wellbeing of my student to an extent that is beyond imaginable for most families of the world is ridiculous. It's absolutely absurd that I can't just focus on handing out a suspension, that in the back of my mind I am worried about someone being potentially deported to another country.”

Drawing fear: Made by members of Faith Presbyterian Church in Maspeth, Queens.

Bo Oglesbee
Andrew Heo
Chan Suk
New York City's undocumented population
Years lived in the U.S.
Source: Source: 2012-2016 5-Year American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample as augmented by the New York City Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity. Undocumented population estimates are adjusted for undercounting by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Even immigrants with some kind of status live in a state of uncertainty.

President Trump has tried to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides deportation relief and temporary work authorization, but no formal legal status, for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors, a move that affects tens of thousands of New Yorkers, according to the mayor’s office. Federal judges ordered Trump to reinstate the program in part, but no new applications are being accepted; DACA’s fate is currently with the courts.

An estimated 15,000 New Yorkers have Temporary Protected Status, which provides temporary legal status and work authorization for people from countries experiencing war or natural disaster. The Trump administration has said it will end this program for Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan, and Nepal.

Meanwhile, the president’s ban on travel from seven countries, including five with Muslim majorities, has affected thousands of New York families, especially Iranians, Syrians, and Yemenis.

They face the vagaries of perpetually changing laws.

“My work permit through DACA expires in March. In the last months, DACA was rescinded and no applications were being accepted. Then a federal court struck down the White House decision to rescind it, and they started accepting existing application renewals. The volatility of it all is just so mentally draining. Even my friends will ask things like, ‘So are you still going to be deported?’ And I'm like, ‘Dude, I don't know!’

I think the only thing I can carry with me is that, if I do get the knock on the door, that when I leave this country, I have told this country who I am and what I represent. I've done everything I can.”

And Trump has raised the bar for legal status.

“I came to the United States two years ago on a scholarship to fulfill my passion of becoming a professional dancer. I grew up in an area with a lot of violence. I would say like one out of 50 persons actually make it within my community, and I was kind of determined to be one of them. I have two older siblings, I'm the youngest. In Jamaica, normally, the last child is spoiled, so they call it a wash-belly. A wash-belly's a person who always gets what they want. I always dreamed beyond my expectation.

My student visa is for five years. But I am applying for something called special immigrant juvenile status. You have to be under 21, abandoned, neglected, or abused by one or both of your parents. My lawyer said to me that now with Donald Trump in office and all of this stuff, they're cutting back. I still have some hope. It's just a matter of time.”

The current climate feels especially scary for the most vulnerable immigrants ...

… such as trafficking victims.

“When Trump won, I was in a hotel. I was watching TV and I'm like, ‘Oh no, I'm really getting deported.’ [My trafficker] really took advantage more of the situation. The abuse started happening more often. Because he knew how scared I was to get deported. He was like, 'They don't want y'all here, if you ever call the police or do anything, they're going to send you back home.'”

K.V., 23
is applying for a visa for victims of human trafficking, which has become harder to receive under Trump.
El Salvador

… and domestic abuse survivors.

“The deportations and detentions are terrifying to our clients. We have seen a decrease in the amount of calls from women in the community. In some cases, husbands will threaten their wives with deportation to exert power over them. Husbands will say that if they go to the authorities, the family will be broken and it will be all the woman’s fault. That keeps the abuse going. Fear is with them every day. An undocumented woman here was pregnant. Her husband would come home drunk and beat her. All she cared about was protecting the baby. She would cover her belly with her arms and let him beat her. She didn’t report him because she didn’t want him to be deported. She was protecting him to protect the baby.”

Emma Medina
is the Women’s Services Coordinator at Voces Latinas in Queens.
For many undocumented New Yorkers, their worst fears—getting detained or deported—have been realized.

For one woman, a honeymoon turned into a nightmare.

Angelica Herrera De Leon and her husband, Angel Almonte, on their honeymoon.
Angelica Herrera De Leon and her husband, Angel Almonte, on their honeymoon. Courtesy of Angelica Herrera De Leon

“We married on Sept. 15, 2017. My mom booked a trip for us to Buffalo. Because of my status we had to go by bus. We went to Niagara Falls on the U.S. side. We had a wonderful weekend.

On our way back, we fall asleep on the bus, but by Rochester, I realized the bus wasn't moving. Then I saw the driver inside the bus station with the border agents. I knew that was it: They were getting on the bus. There were four agents. One started asking everybody where they were from. When he came to us, I wasn't going to lie. I'm before God's eyes. First he asked my husband, and my husband told him he was from the Dominican Republic and he was a resident. He took his residence card. So then I told him where I was from. And he said, ‘Are you here legally or not?’ He took my Hostos [Community College] ID, which was the only ID I had with me, and also my date of birth. Then he said that we had to get off the bus. Once I got off, he said, ‘Okay, this is what's going to happen: You're going to be deported in the next two weeks.’

I told him I was married. But he said he didn’t have anything on file, so that wasn't going to help me. Literally those words. My husband had already done his fingerprints for his naturalization. He was only waiting for the exam. My husband was basically freaking out. He didn't know what to do, he didn't know where to go, he didn't know who to call. They said, ‘Oh, if you want to go back on the bus, you are free to do so because you are legally here.’ But he said, ‘I'm not going to leave my wife.’ He didn't even speak, he just started crying.”

Angelica Herrera De Leon, 23
is undocumented. Her deportation case is currently in court.
Dominican Republic
Angelica Herrera De Leon and her husband, Angel Almonte, on their honeymoon.
Angelica Herrera De Leon and her husband, Angel Almonte, on their honeymoon. Courtesy of Angelica Herrera De Leon

Another man fled gay bashers only to be put in handcuffs at JFK.

“I was working for LGBT people in Nigeria. I was found with a guy I was having a relationship with, they broke into the apartment, dragged me out into the street, and beat me.

I discovered that the United States grants asylum to gay men from countries where being gay is criminalized. I had gotten a travel visa to attend a conference in the U.S. When I arrived at JFK, I walked over to an immigration officer and said, I am fearful for my life. I was put in handcuffs and thrown in the back of a bus. I was ashamed of myself. People saw me in chains, even people I took the same flight with. Maybe they thought I was a drug dealer or criminal.

I didn't know where they were taking me. There was a little window at the back of the bus, but I was handcuffed at the waist and legs. The lights on the George Washington Bridge were the only thing I could see.”

In Trump’s first months in office, ICE arrests in the New York City area went up compared to the previous year, although they haven’t surpassed the early Obama years.


between February and September 2016


between February and September 2017


in fiscal year 2010

The most dramatic difference since Trump took office:

In the eight months after his inauguration, arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions increased


compared to the same period in the previous year, from 189 to 615.

Families find themselves at the mercy of lawyers.

“My old lawyer said, ‘I couldn't help your husband because the case is too complicated.’ We had a pro bono list. So I called them. And nobody responds. I keep calling, calling, calling. I finally found a private lawyer, but he asked for the money first. He asked for total like $4,000. So I said to him, 'I don't have that much. But I really need you to help my husband.' And he said, 'Yeah, but you have pay me first. We cannot process your husband’s case until you pay.' So that's it.”

But a good lawyer can save your life.

Nirna: My country had an earthquake [in 2010], so they decided they were not sending Haitians back. For eight years, I had to report [to ICE], like parole. I didn't miss, not once. But the day before I went this year, I had a nightmare that they kept me, and they did. They said, "You're being detained." Then they put me in handcuffs. But I had called my sister and told her, "Call Sarah Gillman." She was my lawyer before.

Sarah: We filed a petition arguing that they shouldn't have been permitted to just take her into custody without prior notice and revoke her order of supervision. In court, the judge asked the government attorney, "Why did you detain her?" He said, "Well, I just had to detain her because of operational procedures that have to be followed." So basically, they detained a human being who has multiple medical issues and was living in New York City for a long time without any problems, because they had to do something operationally. I think they've been chomping at the bit to do this and now they have the license. That night I called her older sister.

Nirna: Maud.

Sarah: I said, "Could I just ask you again about the family situation?" Their mom has dementia and from what I understand they started going through her paperwork.

Nirna: She had documents that my mother was a citizen.

Sarah: So under the law we were able to argue that Nirna derived citizenship through her mom. We sent an email to the federal attorneys and then Friday around 5, we get an email from them agreeing to release Nirna. She was on the phone hysterically crying with me as I was trying to explain to her that it's okay, I'm coming to get you.

Nirna: After I got off the phone, people were just hugging me. People that didn't even talk to me in there, just hugging me.

Here’s where immigrants are detained in the New York City area:

When an adult immigrant is arrested in New York, the first place they’re likely to go is an ICE processing center in lower Manhattan. Some are then sent to one of three area jails, in Hudson and Bergen counties in New Jersey and in Orange County in New York.

From Oct. 1, 2016 to Nov. 6, 2017,


immigrants were booked on ICE holds in these facilities, from New York City and elsewhere.

Average length of stay in days for fiscal year 2017:


Bergen County Jail


Hudson County Correctional Facility


Orange County Correctional Facility

Some complain of harsh conditions ...

“Hudson is like hell, hell like I wouldn’t want for nobody. It's full of detainees but they treat you like you are a criminal, like you are a murderer. Like you are the scum. There is one microwave so there is always an argument for the microwave. It's always an argument for the phone. They give you breakfast at 6:40, then 10 is lunch, and 4 is dinner. They give you a tray with not even a complete meal. It's like you wouldn't even feed your dog that. Everything you have to buy. A bottle of water is a dollar with tax. If you want to buy a case of water, that's $24. I was so depressed. There were times I would be like, I just want to get out of here by any means. I wanted to kill myself. I was telling my husband, 'If I have to get out by a body bag, I will get out.' This is no place for nobody.”

… and cruel treatment by officers.

“When I was transferred to detention and set for deportation, I was kind of nervous and scared. Some of the people working in there, they racist. They be calling us aliens and all these crazy names and stuff like that. This was at Homeland Security in Manhattan. They were saying, ‘Oh you shouldn't even be here, you should be in your country.’”

A doctor examines some asylum seekers for evidence of abuse and torture.

“My evaluation of their trauma is used by their lawyers in court. When I examine them, there is a guard outside the door. I’m not allowed to bring my phone to take pictures. Instead, I carry blank sheets of paper to document what they tell me and a ruler to measure the length and dimensions of their scars and wounds. I ask things like, 'How many weapons were used? How many times were you hit? Did you see the weapon? How long was it?'

About a month ago, I evaluated a 30-year-old Honduran man who was attacked with a machete by a gang that killed his brother in front of him. He ended up having a scar on the right side of his scalp. The scar was not clean cut, it was irregular and messy because he hadn't gotten proper suturing afterwards. He would not only get beat up by gangs but also by the police. He was also a victim of child abuse and was raped by a family friend. He started trembling when he’d talk about it. He said to me, ‘Why can't this life just finish?’”

And then there’s the construction worker who was detained in cells he helped build.

“I came here Sept. 26, 1976. My first job was working at a nuclear power plant, calibration of pumps and stuff like that. On the job site they had school. So, after work, I started learning how to weld.

Next job I got was at a building on St. Johns and Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn. It's an old folks home. Then I worked at [the] Varick Street [detention center]. All them cells, where they hold immigrants now, I worked on them. I worked on all the rib-blocks downstairs, the main entrance. I was making $18 an hour. I'm bringing in all the blocks and the mortar and all that, building the scaffolds. Not knowing that I'd be right there, locked up, one day.

All the trouble I ever got in with the law was because of drugs. I never got arrested when I was sober. The two charges that I got were petty larceny and attempt at petty larceny. These happened in the '90s. It was never on my mind that maybe one day they could try to deport me for that. I was looking at it like, ‘They're not going to do nothing to me, I've been a permanent resident from day one that I came in this country.’

But lo and behold, it did, in December 2016. They picked me up when I was going to work. An SUV and three cars surrounded me. I thought it was the police, but he said to me, ‘ICE immigration.’ They had guns. Plain clothes. That’s when they took me to Varick Street. I'm walking past them in handcuffs from my hips down to my feet, in a place that I worked on.

God has blessed me with my hands. I can do plumbing work, I can do sheet rock, all that type of stuff I can do. This country was built on immigrants.”

Working in New York
Percentage in the labor force (16+)
Median earnings

Detention is hard on families ...

“They know Daddy went to work, and they asked, 'Where is Daddy, Mommy?' And I said, 'He's somewhere, but he is coming back.' I wasn't ready to tell them Daddy got arrested. And I don't even know what to say, what to do. Only my husband works. The income only from him. My husband always takes care of them. He showered them, everything. Without him, right now, it's just my half missing. But the thing is, if I keep crying, if I keep mourning like this, how about my kids?”

... especially for the kids.

Indra Sihotang and his wife, Risma Fadersair, with their sons at Hudson County jail. Kenny Wassus/New York Magazine

Ivor: Sometimes when I see my dad in detention, to be honest, I want to sneak out with him so he can be with us. But then, the Hudson County detention people would be all like, searching for him. That’s why I quit on that idea. I also have this idea to get back on Donald Trump. If he wants to arrest anyone, then I want to arrest his parents. Or him! So that’s what he deserves! Also I’m kind of furious.

Dwight: I don’t want to move to Indonesia. The rules there are not that good. And here the laws are not that good, too. That’s why I want the laws to change so it could be fair and everyone could be happy in the country.

Ivor: My brother wants to be the president so he can change the laws.

Dwight: Maybe I could first be a lawyer and then I could try to be president.

Ivor: Yeah, that sometimes happens. I want to be a doctor so I can take care of people, because I don't really like it when people die or stuff. Also, to tell you the truth, I got three honor rolls.

Dwight, 9 & Ivor, 8
describe visiting their dad, Indra Sihotang, in detention.
Indra Sihotang and his wife, Risma Fadersair, with their sons at Hudson County jail. Kenny Wassus/New York Magazine
Objects from her father’s bedroom left behind after his deportation.
Objects from her father’s bedroom left behind after his deportation. Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Children of the deported must plan for a future without parents.

Objects from her father’s bedroom left behind after his deportation.
Objects from her father’s bedroom left behind after his deportation. Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

“I was at work when my sister called, crying: ‘They took Daddy. He went to his meeting with Immigration, and then they took him.’ My heart went down to my stomach.

I told myself, 'He's coming back. Three weeks, tops. We've gotta go back-to-school shopping. I'm gonna be a senior. I don't have time for any of this. He needs to help with my college application.' Then the lawyer sat me down: ‘This is not something like he just comes home.' I was like, what?

After we went to the lawyers, we drove up to Jersey to see where he was being held. The man was like, ‘You can't see him today. He has to put your name on a list.’ My older brothers saw him. They were like, ‘I don't know if you want to see him because he doesn’t look the same.’ I don't know if it's because he's a picky eater—I get that from him—or because he was just sad.

In the car home, everybody was crying. I was like, ‘Mom, I'm gonna sleep over at my friend's house,’ and I went over and went to a party. Usually I'm not really a party person, but I was just screaming and stuff, dancing, laughing. That was a way of me exerting it out. I was dreading going home. My dad's chair is right here, my chair is right there. At 11, we watch 'Judge Judy.' That's his favorite show—he loves her and I hate her. He has this intoxicating scent. I don't know if it's his cologne or his natural scent. Going in the closet, smelling that—I laid on the bed and started crying.

My dad got deported on Jan. 3, 2018. My friends don’t really know. I don't want them to see me in a vulnerable way.

What hurts the most is to think about the future. He's never gonna see me walk down the aisle and finally meet the guy who was enough for me. He's never gonna see me in a hospital room giving birth to my kid. I know I can always go visit him in Africa. It's not that he's dead, but it's just not the same. Here with my dad, that's where I belong. In the living room, watching 'Judge Judy.'”

Anonymous, 18
was about to start her senior year in high school when her father was detained last August. In January, he was deported to Gambia.

As of May, there have been at least


deportation proceedings filed against immigrants living in New York City since Trump’s inauguration. That’s likely an undercount because of filing and reporting delays.

By far, immigrants from China constitute the group with the largest number of those cases with at least 4,900. Other countries in the top five: India, Mexico, Ecuador, and Bangladesh.

New York City has become home, if only temporarily, for thousands of young migrants who arrived alone or were separated from their parents.

Unaccompanied minors can be detained once they turned 18.

“I went through so much to get here. I saw mutilated bodies. I was robbed by cops in Guatemala and beaten by sicarios. I ran through deserts and jumped on trains so big and loud I thought my heart would jump out of my chest.”

After being apprehended by U.S. immigration officials, Jose was taken to a shelter in New York City.

“In the children’s home, I was treated very well. They were caring. They’d take us out to the city to eat donuts, to McDonald’s, to play, to church, to the pool.”

Two months later, on the morning of his 18th birthday, ICE arrested him and took him to a jail in New Jersey.

“My friends didn’t see it happen because it was early in the morning, and a lot of them had already left with their sponsors. I was crying, my social worker was crying. I was treated like a criminal. You know the jumpsuits that criminals wear on TV? That’s what they put on me.”

Eventually, Brooklyn Defender Services took his case, and he was released after four months, in March 2017.

“My last day in the jail people cheered. Everyone knows how hard it is to get to this country. They gave me hugs, tears in their eyes. When I got out I was so nervous. I wasn’t used to being outside anymore.”

Jose’s immigration case is pending, but his lawyers say that new changes to the rules are making it harder for immigrants like him—those who arrived as unaccompanied minors but aged out, and are now treated like undocumented adults—to stay. But Jose is optimistic.

“When I was in jail I thought nothing good would happen, and now look. Everything changed.”

Jose now lives in Manhattan with his sponsor.

“Everything is calm at home, she has a family. She works a lot. In the morning we eat a traditional breakfast, coffee and rolls. I really like riding my bike around the city. I went to the Statue of Liberty a few months ago, and I try to go to Central Park often. But there are still more places I want to see. I have never been to a zoo, for example. Or on one of those boats that goes around the city.

I play soccer in Queens from Monday to Saturday. I also take English classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And I go to therapy. I started reading a book about the history of Martin Luther King, Jr. I am not done, but he seems like a brave person.”

Detention can be especially traumatizing for teens.

“When the immigration officers got me, I couldn’t speak Spanish. So I would say yes to everything. They asked me my birthday but I didn’t know. I told them I was 17.

They took me to a children’s home. When my papers arrived from Guatemala, they put handcuffs on me. I kept thinking, ‘Why are they doing this to me?’ I am not dangerous. My hands were tied and so were my feet. There was a heavy chain around my waist. I was walking like a duck. It was so uncomfortable.

In jail, I was always afraid. I couldn’t eat some days. The room I was in was so small I could barely walk in it. The bed was just a mattress with plastic. Always there was cold. And the whole place smelled like people, like human body. Sweaty. Dirty.

One month in and I felt crazy. I won’t make it, I thought.

About two months in, my lawyer came to visit. There was a wall between us, you know, the glass ones with the telephones? She said, ‘One day you’ll be out. One day you’ll be free.’

Months later, an officer came one day and said my lawyer had arrived to take me. When I got outside, there was snow everywhere. I had never seen snow. I grabbed it and squeezed it and held it. I was scared, and happy, and grateful. We went to the subway, and she took me to my sponsor’s house in Brooklyn.”

Some immigrant New Yorkers are taking steps to control their own futures and protect their communities.

They're learning how to handle ICE interactions.

“If ICE knocks on your door, you have to ask them, 'Where's the paper signed by the judge?,' number one. Number two, 'Who are you looking for?' If it's not you, it's not an indication for you to open the door. You don't have to give any information to ICE. Number three, if they get into your house, you got a right to remain silent. I'll tell them, 'I'm not allowing you to touch anything in my house.'

And when filming, if ICE tells you to move, tell them, ‘I am stepping back, three steps back.’”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers prepare to arrest an undocumented immigrant during an operation in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in April.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers prepare to arrest an undocumented immigrant during an operation in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in April. John Moore/Getty Images

How to film an ICE raid

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers prepare to arrest an undocumented immigrant during an operation in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in April.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers prepare to arrest an undocumented immigrant during an operation in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn in April. John Moore/Getty Images

Homemade videos can be powerful tools for protecting immigrant rights, says Witness’s Palika Makam. In training sessions for immigrants and their advocates, her organization makes several recommendations for those who decide to record ICE arrests in their neighborhoods:

  • Get several angles, including close-ups and wide-angle shots, and capture local landmarks to corroborate details such as street signs, important buildings, and clocks that show the current time. “From a legal perspective, it can be really important,” Makam says.

  • Focus your camera on the ICE agent. Avoid filming the face of the person being detained. If you can’t avoid the latter, use the face-blurring tool on YouTube. Makam advises against narrating — don’t say anything at all — because it might be used in court. “If you’re going to narrate, stick to objective facts, but recognize that in that situation, it’s really tense and difficult, and you might be emotional,” she said.

  • Know your rights, but also know when not to use them. “No footage is ever worth your safety or the safety of the person who you're trying to protect by filming,” she said. (An ICE spokesperson says, “While people can lawfully film a public encounter, they shouldn’t interfere or create an unsafe situation for the officer or arrestee.”)

  • Be strategic about timing. “Sharing videos after an official ICE report or police report comes out can be huge, because it can help show and highlight any lies or discrepancies. If you share right away, it could give law enforcement the opportunity to change their story around the video.”

  • Use a phone password that’s at least six digits, and don’t use touch ID, because ICE can legally force you to unlock your phone with your fingerprint, Makam says. “You and your phone are part of a community. Think about your emails, your text messages, your contact numbers. We’ve seen that ICE will go targeting one person and then sweep up 10 more people in the meantime.” Save at least one unedited copy of your footage in a secure place.

  • Remember that people are paying attention, Makam says. “The people we work with — the lawyers and the journalists — they say that after an incident, they absolutely, 100-percent go through YouTube and Facebook and Twitter,” she said. “They look for the tags. They’re looking for eyewitness video, they’re looking for stories.” And for the record, ICE considers the term "raid" incorrect and misleading. "Each time an ICE officer or agent goes out on an arrest, it is a targeted enforcement action," a spokesperson said.

Some have decided that it’s easier to just deport themselves.

“When I realized about my immigration status, I was around 17. There's a mandatory requirement that we have to serve in the South Korean military. There was paperwork to defer it, but my mother, I guess, she didn't apply for it. I got stuck in this weird limbo: I couldn't apply for a green card in the U.S. without an active visa. But if I go back to Korea, I'm going to be jailed. I was a man with no country.

At the end of March, I decided I'm going back to Korea. I hired a lawyer in Korea and he got me out of the military jail time. I felt this huge relief. I'm going to go serve in the army. I lived in the shadows long enough. I want to really just come clean. [President Trump] did play into my decision-making. It's made it harder for people like me to get status.

In Korea, you come to America for a better life, you come for a dream. I'm going back for a better life, which to me sounds pretty outrageous, but it is the best choice, I think, for my future. I'm taking a small duffle bag filled with a couple of shirts, pants, a toothbrush, $500 equivalent in Korean currency. And a dream.”

And yet, for many being here is still worth the risk.

“As an undocumented person, for a long time I felt that guilt and shame about who I was. But when we decided to become [part of a] sanctuary church network, the church asked if I wanted to share my story with other people. I decided to speak publicly. I do know there are people who may have the same fear that I had, and they want to hide from everything that’s going on. But if I don’t share my story, it means not only I lose my opportunity to speak up, but I think it’s kind of we’re losing together.

If anything happens to me and my family, it will really hurt me and break my heart. But if that’s the cost that has to be made, I think I’m willing to do that. We cannot just constantly live in fear. The fear is what keeps us back.”

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The following organizations were important sources for the material in this package:
African Communities Together, Brooklyn Defender Services, Catholic Charities of New York, Chinese-American Planning Council, Inc., Immigrant Defense Project, Immigration Equality, The Legal Aid Society, Make the Road New York, MinKwon Center for Community Action, New Sanctuary Coalition, New York City Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Safe Passage Project, St. Hope Leadership Academy, The Bronx Defenders, Transgender Law Center, Voces Latinas, Witness