Nowhere To Hide

Living In Fear Of Deportation

The estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States exist in a perpetual state of anxiety and uncertainty.

Can they avoid detection by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials? Are sanctuaries like churches truly safe havens? Can they get a fair – and timely – hearing in immigration court?

And what about our youngest immigrants: Will they ever be able to shake feelings of instability and dread, even if they eventually gain citizenship?

As the immigration debate roils the nation, NOWHERE TO HIDE examines the impact of living in fear of deportation.


CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: How Deportation Stress Can Exact a Long-Term Toll

Deportation fears are taking a heavy psychological toll on New York City's immigrant communities – and it’s a burden children will bear for their rest of their lives, experts say.

Prolonged exposure to challenging events can alter children’s adrenaline and cortisol metabolism – disrupting their still-developing nervous systems, said Emily Bosk, professor of social work at Rutgers University.

"We refer to this kind of strain as toxic stress," she said. "And it really changes kids’ brains."

Childhood trauma has been linked to adulthood health problems, ranging from major depression to stroke. However, none of the current clinical measurement tools include specific questions about deportation fears.

Photo Illustration. "Sanctuary is sexy for about a week." Photo by Ivan Flores.

The Centers for Disease Control’s landmark study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) developed a retrospective survey of adults to measure the impact of childhood trauma. Researchers found that for every traumatic event or period of toxic stress a child endures, the higher the risk for many chronic and catastrophic medical conditions.

Using the ACEs study as a guide, we created a survey of common deportation-related scenarios that do not appear in commonly used diagnostic tests.

The questions in our survey are similar to ACEs queries. We assigned answers a value based on datasets from previous studies in peer-reviewed medical journals with statistically significant sample sizes.

Our survey aims to provides someone who has little or no idea what it is like to live in fear of deportation a way to imagine the weight of the constant threat – and its damaging effects on children.

Bosky said a method for gathering data about children facing deportation fears could help spur much-needed funding to help undocumented immigrants struggling amid Trump Era uncertainty.

"The level of anxiety was enormous after the election," said George Finger, a coordinator at El Centro del Inmigrante, a Staten Island non-profit that provides social services for local immigrants. “Initially people didn’t want to leave their house.”

Bosk said that data also be helpful for shaping immigration-related legislation.

"Good, strong policy can really mitigate some of these experiences we’re talking about,” she said.


RISKY REFUGES: How ICE is Chipping Away at Sanctuary Protections

The image of an immigrant taking sanctuary from deportation in a church has become a sign of the times.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are not supposed to enter houses of worship in search of undocumented immigrants.

The document that makes this possible is known as the “sensitive locations memo.” Signed in 2011 by John Morton, then-President Barack Obama’s first ICE director, the memo outlines where and when immigration officers should carry out enforcement actions. Other “sensitive locations” include schools, hospitals, funerals, weddings, and public gatherings like parades and protests.

Reverend Seth Kaper-Dale describes helping his parishioner, Harry Pangemanan, evade ICE and enter sanctuary.

Still, the memo, intended to provide “guidance,” is not legally binding. Immigration lawyers and advocates point to a growing number of reports of some ICE officers bending or disregarding the memo’s contents. Courthouses are no longer off-limits, under Trump Administration policy.

The Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale is very familiar with the memo. His Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey, has become a haven for immigrants seeking sanctuary from deportation.

He reports that some of his parishioners have been detained or surveilled near their kids’ schools – and even at his church. Kaper-Dale fears that undocumented immigrants are being forsaken.

Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale describes Immigration and Customs Enforcement attempting to gain entry to his church.

“Sanctuary is sexy for about one week, and then no one remembers that sanctuary is going on, and it’s very hard to keep the public interest, and the people who languish here feel really trapped,” he said.


JUDGING JUDGES: How Jurorists’ Ruling Records May Foreshadow Asylum Rulings

Everyday several hundred U.S. immigration judges hear cases that forever shape the life of people who are struggling to avoid deportation or to gain asylum. Some people might have to wait years to get their hearing as judges face a backlog of more than 650,000 cases.

The Justice Department is accelerating the hiring of judges to chip away at the record backlog. But advocates and experts worry the additional judges brought on board under this administration will come from strong prosecutorial backgrounds, which could mean more deportations. “They were quite often prosecutors for the Department of Homeland Security,” said Cesar Cuauhtemoc Garcia Hernandez, associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Prayers for the undocumented outside of the reformed church of highland park in New Jersey. Photo by Ivan Flores.

“When you grow up as a lawyer in a particular institution and your job is to identify who is removable from the United States, and then you get a case with that goal in mind, it’s hard to remove yourself wholly from that perspective.”

Explore the interactive below, which shows current 34 New York judges and their track record on asylum cases. The more the gavel's head is shaded, the higher the risk of being denied asylum if you face that judge. Filter the interactive by where the judges are located in New York state.

The fates of many immigrants struggling to avoid deportation or to gain asylum are in the hands of U.S. immigration judges grappling with more than 650,000 pending cases.

The Justice Department is accelerating the hiring of judges to deal with the record backlog. But immigrant advocates and some legal experts worry the new jurists picked by the Trump Administration will spur an increase in denials of immigrants’ petitions to stay in the U.S.

A sign near a courthouse in New Jersey. Photo by Ivan Flores.

“They were quite often prosecutors for the Department of Homeland Security,” Cesar Cuauhtemoc Garcia Hernandez, associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, said of the crop of prospective news judges.

“When you grow up as a lawyer in a particular institution and your job is to identify who is removable from the United States, and then you get a case with that goal in mind, it’s hard to remove yourself wholly from that perspective.”

Explore the interactive below, which shows 34 current immigration judges in New York State and their track record on asylum cases. The more the gavel's head is shaded, the higher the risk of being denied asylum if you face that judge. Filter the interactive by where the judges are located in the state.

The data used to create the interactive was collected by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University and looks at a number of asylum cases presented to a judge between Fiscal Years 2012 and 2017. You can learn more about TRACS and how the data was collected here.

Judges’ professional backgrounds and track records have long played a role on the outcome of immigration and asylum cases, according to experts.

In December 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice would hire 60 immigration judges by June to help reduce the backlog of immigration court cases. But only six judges had been hired by May, raising questions about how the slew of cases will be handled.

Among those is the case of Joselyn Castillo, who started the U.S. asylum process in 2015 after fleeing violence she experienced as a trans woman in Guatemala.

“A judge analyzes your case, but a judge doesn’t know what goes on back home,” Castillo, 27, said in Spanish. “Sometimes they say yes or no, but they have no idea what awaits in our home country, even death.”