Testimony: Oversight Hearing on The Experiences of Black Migrants in New York City

Catherine Gonzalez, Supervising Attorney and Policy Counsel Padilla Unit, Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) testified before an Oversight Hearing on The Experiences of Black Migrants in New York City held by the New York City Council on Immigration Jointly with the Committee on Hospitals.

“Black immigrants represent a significant, rapidly growing segment of our community in the United States, and all journey here with unique challenges, distinct backgrounds.” Immigration policies and restrictions on entry to the United States have disproportionately targeted and excluded Black immigrants from entering the United States to seek asylum. Facing harsh and punitive treatment, such as automatic detention when they enter at the southern border, “U.S. immigration policies also continue to reinforce anti-Blackness through discriminatory practices, as demonstrated by the Border Patrol’s racist and brutal mistreatment of Haitian refugees at the U.S. southern border in the past few years.”


Ms. L, a BDS client who is a native of Chad and speaks only a specific dialect of Arabic, received documents, including a notice of her first ‘check-in’ appointment with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) entirely in Spanish, a language she does not speak.

Mr. D, a BDS client who is a native of Senegal and speaks Wolof, shared documents he received from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the border about his immigration
case are entirely in Spanish. Mr. D does not speak Spanish.

These are just two examples but represent a problem we see among many of the people we represent. We continue to encounter clients who speak French, Igbo, Wolof, Arabic, and other languages who have been given their immigration paperwork in Spanish at the border.


The ensnaring of Black immigrants into the New York criminal legal system reflects the mistreatment they faced when they arrived at the border where the risk of detention and fear of deportation loom large. Black immigrant New Yorkers, those who have newly arrived and as well as those who have lived here for decades, are experiencing increased rates of ICE apprehension, as biased policing practices intersect with current ICE enforcement priorities prioritize both people who recently arrived and people who have contact with the criminal legal system. BDS continues to see an increase in ICE arrests in the community. Pursuant to current ICE enforcement guidelines, a growing number of noncitizens being detained in ICE custody after an arrest or other contact with the criminal legal system.



BDS supports Int 0084-2024, Int 0085-2024 and Int 0739-2024 as important steps towards ensuring an improved approach to welcoming and supporting immigrants to our city. Additionally, BDS supports Res 0340-2024 and the city’s call to our federal government to enact a more humanitarian-centered approach to meet the needs of Black immigrants arriving at our borders seeking protection.

Read the full testimony here.

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